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

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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
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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

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