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Notation of Truth in The Things They Carried by Tim O’brien

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“I was once a soldier. There were many bodies, real bodies with real faces.” War is not an easy topic to talk about, but one that needs to be addressed. It’s sad, but true. The importance of understanding how these individuals have been changed, for the worst, is important. In war there is a huge loss of morals. Nobody will come back the same. Second thoughts, guilt, flashbacks, and fear are all a part of a daily routine for people who have experienced war. The truth of war is hard for people who haven’t been to war to understand. That is why O’Brien writes a book that is fit to help regular people better understand what war is like. May not be the real truth, but it is a truth that more people will understand. The notation of truth is related to The Things They Carried, by Tim O’brien because they both compare the ethics of truth. For O’brien, something isn’t true unless it feels true. Whether or not something actually happened is besides the point. O’brien says, “story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth”.

The story truth might not be exactly quoted from a real life situation but the little fibs O’Brien adds into his story helps people to take away more from his novel. Those bits of exaggeration help people relate more and understand the content and emotions people face in the war. The actual truth is more complicated than story truth which makes it harder for people who have never faced the challenges of war to interpret. Regular people need more fabricated stories that are interesting and get our attention to keep us engaged and relating to what is going on. The real truth isn’t always the best way to express a story to those who might not understand. O’Brien states, “The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head. There is an illusion of aliveness”. Adding in those extra details may help the reader get a better wrap around the emotions that one may feel in a situation so intense, like in war. “I want you to feel what I felt”. O’brien says in the chapter, Good Form. He needs people to know what he felt like when he went through things in war that caused him to feel such extreme emotions. He feels that using fibs here and there and creating what could be real life situations in his story is how he can get the message across to readers.

Guilt is also a big part of a war story, guilt unifies the novel The Things They Carried because it shows a commonality between every soldier in the platoon because more than less of them feel guilt about different things they have experienced in war. There was always so much going on, “They carried all they could bare, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried”. This shows that the soldiers had constant baggage on them and their daily life was always stressful. There are different ways the soldiers feel guilt, whether is was watching someone get killed or being the person killing someone, “At one point I remember, we paused over a snapshot of Ted Lavender, and after a while Jimmy rubbed his eyes and said he’d never forgiven himself for Lavender’s death”. Jimmy is carrying the guilt is because he feels that Ted’s death could have been prevented if he wasn’t so caught up with Martha. All of these men feel guilty about something in their own way.

When you are in war there’s a very little possibility you will come back the same person you were before heading off to war. War changes people. That is why dehumanization plays a big role in the novel The Things They Carried. O’brien uses examples of soldiers doing completely immoral things and losing sense of what’s right and what’s wrong. In all honesty “a true war story is never moral”. There is no way to tell a real, true, war story without showing some of the crazy inhumane things that went on in war. There were various times where O’brien showed how the soldiers lost their sense of right and wrong, “Azar strapped it to a claymore antipersonnel mine and squeezed the firing device”. Azar is losing his mind, he blew up an innocent puppy for no reason except for his own pleasure and entertainment. This is just how much war takes a toll on you.

No matter what people would like to think, war is a unfair and gruesome. It’s the truth. People come home different people than they were before war. Morals have been lost, guilt has taken a toll on their conscious and they have been changed, usually for the worst. It is hard for people who live a normal life everyday that have never seen what war is like to even begin to understand how traumatizing war is. That is why Tim O’brien gave us a “story truth” war story. It gives us the opportunity to actually understand the things that happen in a war.

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Notation of Truth in the Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. (2020, December 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 7, 2023, from
“Notation of Truth in the Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.” GradesFixer, 10 Dec. 2020,
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