Tim O’Brien writes a collection of short stories that form the novel The Things They Carried. This novel is very affective in exploring the social issue of war. Throughout the novel the reader experiences the horror stories of war. The awfulness of these tales causes the reader to inquire whether war is really worth the sacrifices that soldiers are forced to make. By using narration, symbols, and imagery, O’Brien focuses on the meaning and purpose of war in this short but meaningful book.
The element that O’Brien applies perhaps the most affectively is that of narration. His style is unique in that he often relates to the reader stories that were told to him. In this sense it is often a third person narrator telling the story of a first person narrator. From this style of narration we the readers get the opinions of two people often coming through. Tim O’Brien displays this when he tells us the story of Rat Kiley. He did not actually witness when Kiley shot himself in the foot, but rather heard about it from others. This causes the reader to call into question the reliability of the story. But moreover, through this story we are shown the toll that war takes on Rat Kiley. The misery of Vietnam causes Kiley to shoot himself in the foot to attempt to escape to a hospital. Yes, it is possible because of the multiple transfers of the story that it is not 100% accurate, but either way the reader can see O’Brien’s message in telling us this event; war can cause people to go insane and do things that are out of the ordinary in order to escape.
O’Brien also uses repetition throughout the novel. The reader sometimes finds himself or herself confused because the author reverts back to stories he has already told. This is however an affective literary tool. The stories that O’Brien repeats, such as the death of his friend Kiowa, help to make their importance much more apparent to the reader. Kiowa is one of the people that O’Brien is the closest to in the book. O’Brien is there when he dies, and naturally blames himself for his death. He goes on to tell the story of how his friend died multiple times. This is not only because Kiowa meant a lot to him, but also to examine a larger issue more closely. It is about how the war causes him to feel; how it causes him severe grief and guilt. This is part of a global problem for soldiers. They sacrifice so much and the prices of war take a severe toll on their psyches and personalities. O’Brien’s use of repetition helps the reader to recognize this.
Lastly, O’Brien incorporates imagery into his novel. The manner in which he describes the things that he witnesses allows the reader to feel much more involved. However, it is also horrifying to be able to imagine so well everything that the soldiers are suffering. This is the most apparent when O’Brien describes the field in which the death of his friend Kiowa takes place. It is a field that is basically made up of the waste of the down. O’Brien allows the reader to feel like they are there by describing the smell, the sounds, and the feeling of the mud beneath him in great detail. We are allowed through his imagery to imagine how much the soldiers are suffering; a big social issue.
The literary devices that O’Brien uses call us to question whether war is worth its benefits. Are all the things that O’Brien details to us through his narration, repetition, and imagery allow us to look at the larger social issue of the purpose and consequences of war. All literary devices that O’Brien uses are used in order to make an impression on the reader and create his overall theme of the novel. With this he forces the reader to take into consideration the affects war has on a soldier.