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The Things They Carried

Important Quotations Explained

Quotes Important Quotations Explained

Quote 3

By telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others. You start sometimes with an incident that truly happened, like the night in the shit field, and you carry it forward by inventing incidents that did not in fact occur but that nonetheless help to clarify and explain.

This passage comes from “Notes,” a story about O’Brien’s efforts to allay Norman Bowker’s guilt about Kiowa’s death and his feelings of aimlessness after the war by telling a story. O’Brien reflects on his own storytelling after Bowker sends him a letter asking for a story because he, Bowker, wants to explain his feelings of frustration and disillusionment but doesn’t know what to say. The letter inspires O’Brien to consider his own storytelling as a means for coping with his traumatic experiences. This particular passage is one of several that support O’Brien’s contention that in storytelling, objective truth is not as important as the feeling that a story gives. Later, in “Good Form,” O’Brien says that the stories he tells may be entirely made up and forces us to decide whether his characters and contentions are just as powerful and valid if the facts behind them are simply made up. All of this commentary serves to prove that sometimes, in storytelling, factual truth is not as important as emotional truth.