The Things They Carried

by: Tim O’Brien

“Notes”

Summary “Notes”

By working on this story and finessing it in order to make it accurately convey his feelings about Vietnam and specifically about Norman Bowker and Kiowa, O’Brien makes peace with his memories of them. He writes in order to remember in a way that is not painful. Therefore, though he originally leaves Kiowa’s death out of “Speaking of Courage,” he puts it back in because it is the essential part of understanding Bowker’s despair and listlessness.

As in previous stories, O’Brien makes the boundaries between truth and fiction vague in order to suggest that telling a true war story is not contingent on any verifiable facts. For example, the chronology of the fictional O’Brien’s writing career is quite similar to the real O’Brien’s—If I Die in a Combat Zone and Going After Cacciato are names of novels that O’Brien the author actually published, and the mention of these real works raises the stakes for both the fictional O’Brien and for us. Reading “Speaking of Courage” takes on a new significance for us, for example, if a man named Norman Bowker actually killed himself. Also, Bowker’s statement to O’Brien that he recognized himself among the characters of If I Die in a Combat Zone forges a closer link between O’Brien, who stands outside his works, and his characters, who inhabit them.