The Weight of the Things They Carried

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The Weight of The Things They Carried
Tim O’Brien makes a very big deal out of the concept of “truth” throughout his novel The Things They Carried; such a big deal, in fact, that over the course of his work he continually redefines and even contradicts himself as to what “truth” really is. In the chapter entitled “How to Tell A True War Story”, O’Brien offers a multitude of criteria that supposedly defines what does and does not make a true war story.

O’Brien offers the first commandment for telling a “true” war story: “A true war story is never moral… If a story seems moral, do not believe it… There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil… You can tell a true war story if it embarrasses you. If you don’t care for obscenity, then you don’t care for the truth” (Pages 68-69). This of course can be disproven, as many actions taken during war can be believed to have some moral value: the saving of a fellow soldier, the restraint from murdering innocents, etc. but in this case, O’Brien, having been to war, gets to make a claim that would otherwise seem facetious to normal people.

This collection of quotes is grouped together because they all fit a general theme: “In many cases, a true war story cannot be believed. If you believe it, be skeptical. It’s a question of credibility. Often the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn’t, because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible stuff. In other cases you can’t even tell a true war story. Sometimes it’s just beyond telling” (71). “You can tell a true war story by the way it never seems to end” (76). “In a true war story, if there’s a moral at all, it’s like the thread that makes the cloth. You can’t tease it out. You can’t extract the meaning without unraveling the deeper meaning. And in the end, really, there’s nothing much to say about...
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