The Role of Truth in "The Things They Carried"

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The Purest Form of Truth: Truth's Role in "The Things They Carried"

“War is hell, but that’s not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead” (76). According to Tim O’Brien, all of these generalizations about war are the truth. However, as O’Brien continuously reshapes readers’ concept of truth throughout The Things They Carried, one quickly comes to realize that none of these facts represent truth about war. Readers experience the essence of Vietnam through each of O’Brien and his squadron’s vivid memories: Rat Kiley’s loss of a friend as Curt Lemon stepped into his last ray of sunlight and was blown up into the trees, Norman Bowker resigning to letting Kiowa slip under the mud and out of this life, and the “dainty young man” with his jaw in his throat and his eye as a star-shaped hole that was O’Brien’s only kill. Though portrayed as true life experiences, these events and even most of these characters are eventually revealed as fabrications of O’Brien’s mind. Does this mean that the stories are not true? As explained in another passage, “You can tell a true war story by the questions you ask. Somebody tells a story, let’s say, and afterward you ask, ‘Is it true?’ and if the answer matters, you’ve got your answer” (79). So, does it matter that O’Brien never really killed a man, that Bowker never sacrificed the Silver Star medal, and that Curt Lemon never trick-or-treated through a Vietnamese village during Halloween? After the undeniable impact on readers associated with the human experience, war experience, and essence of individuals captured within these stories, the answer to that question proves to be a resounding “no.” One of the main reasons for differentiating between “story-truth” – which may not be true in real life but gives a genuine glimpse...
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