The book by Tim O’Brien is made up of short stories compiled in several chapters. The stories in this book are about the American war in Vietnam. The soldiers are seen to have gone through a lot during that time and Tim lives to tell the story (O’Brien 4). This paper will look at three short stories from the book and will look at three elements that are treated similarly in the stories. The elements that will be studied are the language used, the style and the effects that the stories have on the readers.
The things they carried
In this story, the author uses figurative language in order to bring some nebulous concepts to life and give it substance. This helps him express himself to the reader effectively. This is seen whereby O’ Brien describes some of the things that the soldiers carried. Some of the things carried by the soldiers were physical objects while others were not but the author describes them as if they were. He uses phrases to give them some physical attributes. Tim O’Brien talks about a group of soldiers who are matching through Vietnam and he describes the things each of them carried (O’Brien 13).
O’Brien believed that the things that the soldiers carried were dependent of their personalities since each carried something different owing to the fact that each had set different priorities. Some people carried tangible items while others carried intangible ones. Those items were considered the basic needs of the particular soldier and they had to carry the things that would enable them to survive the hard times in Vietnam.
Figurative speech is used in that the feelings such as rage, shame and grief are described as if they were tangible. The difference between the physical and the abstract items is that the abstract ones are not easily cast away. Someone cannot easily do away with them or forget about them. Many critics have praised this introduction and have seen it fit and insightful to the recurring characters in the book.
When O’Brien gives a description of the tangible items, he bluntly talks about them and describes them the way they are. He does not give his feelings or sentiments about the particular items. For example, when he describes the items carried by the first lieutenant and army leader, he only gives straightforward descriptions of the items. He describes his weapon as a 45 (c) caliber pistol that weighed 2.9 pounds when fully loaded but he says nothing more about it. He does not show any attachment to it. He simply listed down the items if they were the physical ones.
However, whenever he talked of the intangible ones, his writing was a lot more in tune with the feelings of the characters. O’Brien was emotionally attached to the feelings of those particular characters because he had experienced the challenges in Vietnam. He describes the emotional and physical burdens to have been amazingly heavy. This way he gives physical attributes to things that are not.
As O’Brien describes the love that Jimmy had for Martha and as he described the things that went on when they were together, he talks more sentimentally and adds a lot of emotional weight to the reader. This difference in narrative style was necessary to show the emphasis to the intangible items that the soldiers carried (Charters 636).
In the story, there is also the use of flashback. Jimmy flashes back at the events that occurred while he was with Martha. He cross-remembered touching her knee and describes Martha’s reaction as she turned and looked at him in a sad but sober way causing him to remove his hand. He then goes into the fantasy world and starts thinking of the things he would have rather done. The author uses flashback to show the difficulties that the soldiers were going through that made them think of life at the other side.
Critics argue that the authenticity of a story is mostly based on the effects it has on the reader. This story has an effect on the reader since the style used in the story makes the reader realize that the greatest weight is not in the tangible items but the intangible ones. The author talks of the heavy things the men carried including the weapons, ammunition, (magazines) and describes the gravity of the situation especially that from the environment. However, he acknowledges that the greatest weight carried by the soldiers was nothing they could physically carry. The terror, love, and grief were the things that burdened them the most.
The emotional burdens are said to bare the greatest weight since they are not tangible and therefore, cannot be gotten rid of or disposed. This means that the people would have to live with them. The physical items are easily discarded at will. The characters of the story tried to weigh down some of the emotional burdens by getting rid of the physical ones but this did not work so well.
In this story, the author also uses figurative language to compare different things. O’Brien gives a comparison of the war to other things in order to give the reader a better understanding of the situation in Vietnam. This is seen through the way O’Brien uses similes to describe war. He describes war and says that at times war was like a ping-pong ball.
He says that one could put a fancy spin on it. He also uses personification since he says that one could make the war dance. He gives war the attribution of a human character. He uses this to dull the abstract notion of war, especially as a rhetorical feature. At some point in the story, the men are seen playing checkers. This gives them an assurance of some sense of order in the world because there is always a loser and a winner in every game.
There is the use of flashback as a style in this story. The use of storytelling and memory by the author has led other critics to compare his work to those of Joseph Conrad and Marcel Proust. O’Brien flashes back on some of the effects of the war. He is disturbed by the thought of the death of some of his friends such as Kiowa. However, he explains that war was not such a bad thing after all. He remembers a time when they hired an old man from Vietnam to guide them through an area that had been infested with mines. There were mines everywhere but no one ever got hurt and that made them to love the old man. O’Brien tries to bring a good story from Vietnam and to prove that not everything was that bad.
A soldier is described to have gone absent without leave and had a good time with a Red Cross nurse and when he goes back to war, he becomes even more ready to fight than previously. O’Brien remembers the fine details of the events during the war in Vietnam. He remembers the stories about Kiowa teaching the other soldiers how to dance the rain dance. He also flashes back at the story about Azar blowing up a puppy that belonged to Lavender. He believed that the past somehow linked to the future. He believed that they helped someone understand where he or she was going.
O’Brien is unable to forget the finest of details from the days of the war. They appear all over in his writing and he is helpless to contain them. He acknowledges that the beautiful and ugly things that happened in Vietnam would remain in his memory forever and will be part of him.
The effect this story has on the reader is that it acknowledges that some of the things that happen in life would be there to stay. Such things may not be easily erased or forgotten. Many bad things happen to people in life but on thinking about them, one might realize that they were not so bad after all. Some things happen for a reason and have some good effects in the end. The things that happen now have an effect on the things that are to happen in the future.
In this chapter, there is also the use of flashback. The use of this technique by O’Brien has led critics to compare it with the Civil War stories told by Ambrose Bierce. Others have compared it with the classical stories of Homer. As Jimmy went to visit Tim some years after the war, they start talking about the war. They have a look at the photographs taken during that time and they discuss the events. Jimmy points out some of the ugly moments and swears never to forgive himself for the death of Lavender. Tim also shared the same sentiments about some things that he allowed to happen in Vietnam.
After some drinks, they both become drunk and Tim surprises Jimmy. He asks him about Martha. Jimmy was caught off guard because he was surprised that Tim even remembered her. To share the memories, Jimmy goes to his room to get a framed picture of her. It was a picture taken in 1979 at a reunion. Martha was a Lutheran missionary then and practiced nursing. Jimmy remembered that she had never been married and she could not understand why. He fell in love with her and finally confessed his feelings towards her. When he did this, Martha simply shrugged him off. She did not love him back and this explains the dull look in her eyes whenever she looked at him. He got that picture from her when she gave him the picture and told him not to burn it. Critics have applauded O’Brien’s ability to memorize his wartime experiences and have considered the book his finest work of fiction.
The story Jimmy was giving started turning emotional and personal so Tim avoided the topic for the rest of his visits. Jimmy then asked Tim to write a story about him and Martha. He thought that somehow this would change Martha’s mind. Tim promised that he would and that he would make him look good. He would do this by not mentioning some of the things that actually happened.
Therefore, the reader cannot be sure about Jimmy’s character because if Tim actually decided to keep his promise and keep quiet about some things that happened in Vietnam, it would mean that there are certain things that we would not know about Jimmy. The reader would also not know if Tim broke the promise when he talked about Ted Lavender’s death. Therefore, there is the use of suspense since the reader can only speculate and imagine what could have happened.
The book by O’Brien is an interesting one and is properly written to tell the story in the best way possible. The author uses several styles throughout the story and this includes the incorporation of flashback to tell the things that occurred in Vietnam. Figurative language is also used in various occasions. The reader’s attention is captured by the captivating story and some lessons are also learnt.
Charters, Ann. The story and its writer. Boston: Bedford/St, 2011. Print.
O’Brien, Tim. The things they carried. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1990. Print.
O’Brien, Tim. “The Vietnam in me.” The New York Times, 1994: 4. Print.
Kennedy, X.J. Giora, Dana. Literature- An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama and Writing. New York: Longman, 2010. Print.