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O'Brien then retells the story, over and over, with each version providing a new perspective on Kiley's own emotional trauma from earlier combat experiences and the murder of the buffalo.Eventually he reveals that it all was a fictional exercise meant to express trauma and its consequences without merely utilizing his own personal experiences.The role of memory is an important theme in the stories in the volume.
In fact, the interweaving of fact and fiction in The Things They Carried has generated much commentary, particularly about the ambiguous nature of his narratives and the metafictional quality of his storytelling techniques.
In 1991 the volume was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Critics Circle Award.
Commentators note that for O'Brien, the question of authenticity and verisimilitude when relating war experiences is ambiguous; instead, a story's authenticity is often based on its effect on the reader.
As O'Brien states, a story is truthful if it “makes the stomach believe.” Reviewers assert that the stories address the effects of combat trauma and the struggle for redemption and recovery.
When the soldier tries to apply a moral and revises the story, the narrator recognizes the inherent truth of the first version.
For him, a true story is one that isn't based on what actually happened, but the different ways in which the traumatic experience is rewritten and retold.
What does "O'Brien" mean when he writes that he realizes writing "is as Tim trying to save Timmy's life with a story"? Comment on three characters' loss of innocence in the novel, more specifically how these characters move from innocence of war to experience of the ravages of Vietnam. Do you think these characters completely lose their innocence, and if they do, how does O'Brien demonstrate this? Discuss three examples of O'Brien writing about writing or storytelling. According to O'Brien, does remembering the past preclude "endings" such as the ending of O'Brien's personal and emotional conflict over participation in the Vietnam War?
How does this relate to O'Brien's decision to write his work as a series of vignettes or interrelated stories rather than as a traditional linear narrative? Both Kathleen and Linda discuss "endings." With whose version do you think "O'Brien" ultimately agrees and why?
Published in 1990, The Things They Carried is regarded as an exceptional fictional work based on the experiences of a dozen American soldiers dealing with the trauma and boredom of combat during the Vietnam War.
Reviewers commend O'Brien's innovative combination of fiction, memoir, and nonfiction in the short pieces that comprise the volume.