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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
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.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Things They Carried!