The Things They Carried: What's "Real"?

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There are instances when imaginary stories are more powerful than those that actually happened. The fictional reality present in O'Brien's The Things They Carried adds more realism to his writing than any amount of actual details every could. Even though the stories recounted in the book didn't physically happen, they still hold as true as any actual war story. Furthermore, many of the characters and experiences found in these stories have been created from composites of real people and places. Essentially, the stories are first-hand accounts of things that never happened. Tim O'Brien uses this fictional world to negate death, to emphasize meaningful events and character traits, and to enrich the stories with feelings as oppose to factual details.

O'Brien often presents the idea that through writing, characters exist eternally for all to see. Curt Lemon, Kiowa, Norman Bowker—every one of O'Brien's fallen comrades is able to live on through his stories; their lives are "saved." Linda, O'Brien's deceased childhood sweetheart, explains in "The Lives of the Dead" that being dead is like being a library book and waiting to be checked out (245). People are preserved as they were in the past. O'Brien preserves himself as a child along with Linda, writing that "when I take a high leap into the dark and come down thirty years later, I realize it is as Tim trying to save Timmy's life with a story" (246). This represents a desire to return to the innocence of childhood: a time before war and death, loss and grief. O'Brien acknowledges the connection to childhood when he says "I'm forty-three years old, and a writer now, still dreaming Linda alive in exactly the same way" (245). Through his writing, he is able to keep Linda—along with himself—alive endlessly, thus negating death.

Each story in The Things They Carried contains fictional characters with real qualities, and fictional events with real morals. This strategy is used to emphasize the most important aspects of...
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