Necessary Format Of The Things They Carried

Essay, Research Paper

It was necessary and crucial to for The Things They Carried to be written anachronistically and in short story form to convey the messages and themes of the novel. Tim O Brien would not have succeeded in communicating his points to the reader if the novel was written as one long chronological story. There are three main themes that emerge from The Things They Carried; story truth vs. happening truth, the fact that one can make deceased people come alive through stories, and that the war corrupted people and made them lose their innocence. The Things They Carried is a collection of related short stories about the Vietnam War.

One of the themes that permeates the book is the theme of story truth vs. happening truth. O Brien believes that in order to make the reader feel what was going on in the war, or the happening truth, it is necessary to create a story and exaggerate a little. These stories are called the story-truths. Throughout the novel, O Brien interjects and explicitly tells the reader that the story he is telling is not completely true, rather, it s a story truth. In the chapter entitled Good Form, O Brien states that almost everything he writes is invented. Earlier in the novel, in the chapter entitled How to Tell a True War Story, O Brien also implies that his stories are not true. The short story format allows O Brien to interject and tell the reader not to believe what he is saying. However, if the book were written chronologically and in the form of one long story, O Brien would have had to awkwardly insert passages about story truth vs. happening truth in the middle of the story. Those passages would have seemed out of place because the story would have had a certain flow to it. However, by writing anachronistically and in using short stories, O Brien allows himself to insert chapters about story truth vs. happening truth without disrupting the flow of the book- because there is no real order to the novel.

Additionally, O Brien presents a theme of making dead people come alive through stories. He goes about doing this by interposing the death of a girl he loved, Linda, when he was 9, to the deaths he experienced in Vietnam about ten years later. O Brien brilliantly relates this theme in the last chapter, entitled The Lives of The Dead. This chapter consists entirely of O Brien switching off between describing Linda s death and the deaths at Vietnam- an obvious way of relating the theme. If the book had been written chronologically and in the form of a long story, the death of Linda would have come first and the deaths at Vietnam would have come later. The way O Brien clearly relates his theme in the last chapter would not have been possible.

Similarly, the theme that war corrupted people would not have been so striking if the novel had been written in a different format. O Brien plainly showed the truth of how war corrupted people in the chapter entitled Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong. In that chapter, the reader is introduced to a character named Mary Anne who changes from a carefree, innocent teenager into a woman who loves going out on all-night ambushes. The short length of the story allows the reader to focus on its tragic end. Other stories, such as the story of Norman Bowker, also portray how war mentally ruined the lives of many. The focus of these stories was on the outcome of the war. However, if the story had been written chronologically and in the form of one long story, the focus would have been on the war itself rather than on the outcome. The novel also would not have focused on as many radically different people if it had been written as one long story. Because the novel was written the way it was- as a collection of short stories- the reader is explicitly shown how the war effected many different types of people.

Since O Brien wanted to relate all the above mentioned themes in the most lucid manner possible, he chose to write The Things They Carried as a collection of short stories. This allowed him to interject with comments about story truth vs. happening truth without disrupting the flow of the book. It also allowed him to bring different examples of how war mentally ruined many lives. Because the novel was not written in chronological order, O Brien was able to vacillate between the death of Linda early in his life and the deaths at Vietnam. If O Brien had written the novel as a typical fiction story, the themes he wanted to communicate to the reader would not have been as obvious and as easy to figure out. It was crucial that O Brien wrote The Things They Carried anachronistically and in short story form.


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