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Key Facts

Key Facts

full title ·  The Things They Carried

author · Tim O’Brien

type of work · Collection of interconnected short stories

genre · War stories; coming-of-age stories; memory stories

language · English

time and place written · Massachusetts, late 1980s

date of first publication ·  1990

publisher · Houghton Mifflin / Seymour Lawrence

narrator · Tim O’Brien

point of view · Most of the stories are told from the first person, but on several occasions, O’Brien uses the third person as either a distancing tactic or a chance to let one of his platoon-mates, such as Mitchell Sanders or Rat Kiley, tell his story.

tone ·  The Things They Carried is an introspective memory story and a self-conscious examination of the methods and reasons behind storytelling. The narrator is unreliable; he speaks of the necessity of blurring truth and fiction in a true war story.

tense · Past tense, shifting between the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and the narrator’s immediate past, twenty years after the war

setting (time) · Late 1960s and late 1980s

setting (place) · Primarily Vietnam, but also U.S. locations including Iowa and Massachusetts

protagonist · Tim O’Brien

major conflict · The men of the Alpha Company, especially Tim O’Brien, grapple with the effects—both immediate and long-term—of the Vietnam War.

rising action · In the summer of 1968, Tim O’Brien receives a draft notice. Despite a desire to follow his convictions and flee to Canada, he feels he would be embarrassed to refuse to fulfill his patriotic duty and so concedes to fight in Vietnam.

climax · During their tour of duty, the men of the Alpha Company must cope with the loss of their own men and the guilt that comes from killing and watching others die.

falling action · After he returns from war, O’Brien grapples with his memories by telling stories about Vietnam.

themes · Physical and emotional burdens; fear of shame as motivaton; the subjection of truth to storytelling

motifs · Storytelling; ambiguous morality; loneliness and isolation

symbols · The dead young Vietnamese soldier; Kathleen; Linda

foreshadowing · O’Brien mentions the deaths of men such as Ted Lavender, Curt Lemon, and Kiowa before he gives detailed accounts of how and when they died in later stories.

showing not telling

by TheDuckOffender, August 08, 2012

The secret O'Brien claimed to have kept may also have been depicted in that reoccurring emotional/fictional truth that we know oh so well from this story. Perhaps he even showed it in the first chapter, rather than telling it.


6 out of 12 people found this helpful

Literary period

by vickie12, September 04, 2012

What literary period was the things they carried written in?


37 out of 128 people found this helpful


by MendicantBias, October 21, 2012

Azar kicked O'Brein in the head not Jorgensen.


51 out of 59 people found this helpful

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The Things They Carried

The Things They Carried (SparkNotes Literature Guide)