How To Tell A True War Story Essay

1923 Words 8 Pages
What is the difference between being true and being truthful? Can stories that are depicted inaccurately end up feeling truer than the truth itself? In the short story anthology, The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien explores the reality and uncertainties of the Vietnam War through fictional stories based on his own experiences. Often described as “metafiction,” O’Brien makes statements throughout his work about the construction of war stories and the role that truth plays within them. In the aptly named piece, “How to Tell a True War Story,” O’Brien details what he believes distinguishes a nonfiction war story from one that is “true.” A story must meet four criteria to qualify as a true war story by Tim O’Brien’s standards: A true war story …show more content…
A true war story must also evoke emotion to communicate the way war feels to a soldier. Finally, a true war story must be believable to its audience, sprinkling in ordinary yet fake details to make the extreme events that occurred seem plausible. The influence of these guidelines becomes apparent when analyzing O’Brien’s other works. Also found in The Things They Carried, “The Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong” precisely illustrates what O’Brien means when he uses the phrase “true war story.” This short story combines an amoral plot with uncensored vulgarity, evocative writing, and realistic details that present the story in a credible light. Some may contest the opinion that O’Brien wrote “The Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong” to be a true war story because its characters were fictional and never actually existed. However, according to O’Brien, the factual basis of a war story has nothing to do with whether it is true or not. Since “The Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong” fulfills each of O’Brien’s criteria, it must be considered a true war …show more content…
As Tim O’Brien states, “often times the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn’t, because normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness” (“How To Tell A True War Story” 71). In fact, “The Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong” makes an effort to do just that, going as far as to break the fourth wall to do so. In “The Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong,” O’Brien pokes fun at his choice to piece together the truth with speculation when Mitchell Sanders says, “all that matters is the raw material, the stuff itself, and you can't clutter it up with your own half-baked commentary” (106). In spite of Sanders’s criticism, the storyteller Rat Kiley is unable to break his habit, wanting to “bracket the full range of meaning” out of his story (O’Brien, “The Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong” 106). Throughout O’Brien’s piece, Rat Kiley provides detailed speculation of the events he describes in order to fill logical gaps and make the story meaningful to his listeners. Tim O’Brien views this quality not as a flaw but instead as a tenet of what makes a true war story believable. Even after Mitchell Sanders implores Rat to finish his story, Rat discloses that “everything I told you is from personal experience, the exact truth, but there are a few other things I heard secondhand. Thirdhand, actually. From here on it gets to be... I don't know what the word is…

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