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Tim O’Brien is both the narrator and protagonist of The
Things They Carried. The work recounts his personal experience
in the Vietnam War and allows him to comment on the war. He enters
the war a scared young man afraid of the shame that dodging the
war would bring him and leaves the war a guilt-ridden middle-aged
man who tells stories about Vietnam in order to cope with his painful memories.
To cover the distance between himself and what he recounts, O’Brien
weaves a prominent thread of memory through the work. Reading these
stories is similar to spending extended time with an old soldier,
allowing his memories to come to him slowly.
O’Brien’s point of view shapes the events he relates.
In many, if not most, cases, O’Brien holds himself up as evidence
for the generalizations he makes about the war. He is our guide
through the inexplicable horror of the war and the main example
of how extreme situations can turn a rationally thinking man into
a soldier who commits unspeakable acts and desires cruel and irrational
things. Occasionally, O’Brien fades away and lets another character
or a seemingly omniscient third person tell the story. This technique lends
a universal human quality to the stories’ themes and gives us the
opportunity to understand the Alpha Company from several different
O’Brien uses storytelling as solace and as a means of
coming to terms with the unspeakable horrors he witnessed as a soldier.
His comments suggest that although he has become a successful writer and
that his negotiation of memory through storytelling has been a good
coping mechanism, he still thinks that certain realities cannot be
explained at all. His experience with those untouched by the war, such
as his daughter Kathleen, exposes an irony in his faith in storytelling.
He knows that he can grapple with his feelings of disbelief and
painful confusion by telling others what happened and how, but he
cannot express every feeling.
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