The Concept Of Truth In Tim O Brien's The Things They Carried

Improved Essays
In Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, the concept of truth is developed and bent and flipped in on itself over and over, especially in “How to Tell a True War Story.” In this chapter, O’Brien sets abstract definitions to the seemingly concrete idea of truth. These definitions of a “true war story,” as convoluted and contradictory as they seem, all ultimately prove to be true, just as all versions of a story are true because the story changes as the emotions that drive it change. In the end, according to O’Brien, it’s the story that lasts, so it is the story that becomes the truth.
The definitions of a true war story, instead of the story itself, are the frame of this chapter; the stories are just examples. A true war story is defined by
…show more content…
In the end, the only thing that matters is how it makes us feel. This novel is meant to make the reader feel. Regardless, we will still attempt to dig into each individual story and figure out how it is a tool to get across some theme and Tim O’Brien will cringe. It doesn’t matter if The Things They Carried is a collection of short stories or a novel, because, as a whole, it follows the definitions of a true war story: there is never a moral, it cannot be believed, it does not depend on truth, and most importantly, it makes the stomach believe. O’Brien is like Sanders in his storytelling, in that some things may be embellished and sometimes he interrupts his own story, but the point of it is to make us “feel the truth, to believe by the raw force of feeling” (70). O’Brien tests us by retelling the story of Curt Lemon’s death four times, four different ways, four different reactions. In one version, the detail is on Curt Lemon, in the next, only the basics are told, in the third, O’Brien’s experience is the focal point, and in the last, it’s about sunshine. O’Brien tells us his own reaction to each of them: “I still remember that trail junction,” “This one does it for me,” “This one wakes me up,” and “I can still see the sunlight on Lemon’s face.” Each story is told with different points emphasized and O’Brien has a …show more content…
“How to Tell a True War Story” begins with “This is true” (64). It ends with “None of this happened. None of it” (81). The story within this chapter isn’t about Curt Lemon’s death or the patrol or the baby buffalo, it’s about how to tell a story. O’Brien says that to tell a true war story, it must produce a reaction, even if the stories themselves may have never happened. That’s the distinction between happening truth and story truth: the telling is true, the happening is not necessarily true. In the middle of the chapter, O’Brien puts it plainly: “Almost everything is true. Almost nothing is true” (77). There are so many statements in this chapter that are contradictions on the surface, but when put into the perspective of O’Brien’s concept of the truth, further illustrate his point. Everything and nothing can be true at the same time because it’s all in how the story is told, not how the events really played out. Everything about the story of the baby buffalo is true to how war made O’Brien feel, but maybe nothing about that story is true to his own life. In the end, “Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story” (36). O’Brien introduces this concept in one of the earliest chapters of the novel and it appears and relates to every chapter, especially “How to Tell a True War Story.” It’s the stories that last. The reader cannot know which

Related Documents

  • Superior Essays

    Tim O’Brien explores the nature of a war story and the reality held in fiction in The Things They Carried through varying levels of truth. A true war story does not contain a definitive truth; instead, it is constructed from a jumble of skewed visions and memories. It is this aspect of a war story that ultimately distorts the boundary separating fact from fiction. O’Brien categorizes the levels of truth used in stories into story-truth and happening-truth. Although happening-truth, the blunt actuality of the moment, is commonly accepted as the immutable definition of truth, O’Brien argues that story-truth can provide an even more comprehensive truth.…

    • 1192 Words
    • 5 Pages
    Superior Essays
  • Great Essays

    Setting the scene in the beginning lets the reader know that the story he is about to tell is factually true. Throughout this chapter, O’Brien begins different parts with tidbits of information that allow the reader to understand how a “true” war story is constructed. Part of the problem, here, is that O’Brien contradicts himself with each of these lines. He says, “This is true” when referring to his story, yet he says “…a true war story cannot be believed” (68). He wants the reader to understand that his story is true but then he turns around tells them that an actual war story is not something of historical truth.…

    • 1736 Words
    • 7 Pages
    Great Essays
  • Great Essays

    Tim O’Brien always seemed to base his stories off his own experiences in one way or another. More specifically for this essay, we will be talking about “How to Tell a True War Story” in his book “The Things They Carried”. What I am getting at here is that his work never seems to be what we originally think it is. In his story “How to Tell a True War Story”, the point of the story is not about war, it is not a war story. It is a love story; it is a ghost story.…

    • 1549 Words
    • 7 Pages
    Great Essays
  • Improved Essays

    Whether he directly tells the reader, or a character within the story highlights it, he pressures the reader to believe that each story is true. Though he puts emphasis on the absolute truth of war stories, the meaning behind them is what matters. The meaning behind each story demonstrates a different…

    • 1096 Words
    • 5 Pages
    Improved Essays
  • Superior Essays

    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.…

    • 1923 Words
    • 8 Pages
    Superior Essays
  • Improved Essays

    But all the lines in this story are completely intentional and work to prove a point of his. When he leaves you questioning what in the book is real and what isn 't, he is teaching you all about the concept of “truth”. He explains the difference between “story-truth” and “happening-truth”, how truths are contradictory, and that they are based on perspective. All these explanations help prove his lesson that truth is arbitrary. His ideas are further supported by many other texts including Do Not Weep, Maiden, For War is Kind by Stephen Crane.…

    • 1065 Words
    • 5 Pages
    Improved Essays
  • Improved Essays

    It is meant to force the reader to connect with the story on an emotional level. Specific “story truth” is not meant to be used as historical fact, except with great care and comprehensive evidence. Although based on real events, the stories we use as entertainment are “story truth,” meant to leave us with a lasting emotional impression, but are not genuinely accurate. “Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing left to remember except the story” (pg. 36).…

    • 914 Words
    • 4 Pages
    Improved Essays
  • Improved Essays

    These statements lead readers to think that “the only certain thing during the Vietnam War was that nothing was certain” because Kien’s stories are not entirely authentic; they contain details from when Kien is actually in the Vietnam War, details from when he is not, and details from his imagination. Furthermore, Kien mentions that “he had intended to write one thing but his pen took another direction, displaying a mind of its own” (Ninh 194). This comment only adds to the certain uncertainty of the Vietnam War because Kien’s pen creates the story, and not Kien himself. Lastly, Kien’s reliability as a narrator is called into question because Kien…

    • 995 Words
    • 4 Pages
    Improved Essays
  • Superior Essays

    Uniquely, Kurt Vonnegut uses his own voice to stylistically approach his novel indirectly, which results in the inclusion of the author himself, through the technique of breaking the fourth wall. Vonnegut chose to conceal the true meaning of his novel through keen hints and illusions that are intended for open interpretations by his audience, it is meaningless to find a certain real point throughout the chapters since Slaughterhouse- Five and the war are chaotic. The author breaks the fourth wall when he informs the audience of what is going to happen in the book before it happens to give the reader a different experience and allows them to keep all minds open. Kurt Vonnegut induces the audiences queue for their attention by forcefully writing “Listen” (Vonnegut, 22). Vonnegut is presenting himself almost verbally present enlivening his memoir that aims to convince readers of the inhumanity of war .…

    • 1594 Words
    • 7 Pages
    Superior Essays
  • Improved Essays

    But those stories he feeds the audience mix false information with real events. For Tim, blurring the line of distinction between fiction and nonfiction helps him direct the audience to each soldier and his particular view point, understanding, and emotional state during and after their war experiences. Listing the facts and events wouldn’t be his way of truly saving the experiences of each soldier but instead it would be like writing a history book. O’Brien stated on page 171 of the novel, “Story-truth is truer sometimes than happening truth.” Describing the experiences and making the readers feel the accurate emotions was far more important to him than what actually happened because, for him, the factual truth was not as important as the emotional truth. In one of his stories, he writes about the death of a friend, a soldier named Kiowa who dies tragically by sinking deep into a sewage field.…

    • 949 Words
    • 4 Pages
    Improved Essays