"Story-truth is sometimes truer than happening-truth." (171) When most people read this quote in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, they think story truth is emotional truth while happening truth refers to the facts and reality. But beneath the surface we see that the truth is never actually told. No matter how you tell a story the actual truth will never be revealed. The actual truth is for our own sense of self.
Throughout the story “The Lives of the Dead”, O’Brien recalls his history with Linda, his first love. “[Linda] wore a new red cap…very unusual.” (217) O’Brien has no idea what is going on with Linda at this point in time, but the cap is clearly hiding the truth. It is not until later, when Nick Veenhof sneakily lifted off the cap that Linda’s head is revealed with “[a] smooth, pale, translucent white.” (222) The whiteness of Linda’s head seems to be in reference to a blank slate; the purity of Linda, but more so the truth. If O’Brien wrote that her head was tan or didn’t even refer to the nature of the color of her head, then we wouldn’t have read closely into this passage.
But if you continue reading, we come across this: “[t]here was a large Band-Aid at the back of her head” (222) which can be interpreted as covering up the remaining truth. From this moment on, we can assume that Linda has some sort of fatal disease and it is confirmed later in the chapter. But what we don’t know is how she got it, when she got it, why she got it (genetic or just random), or more importantly, what she is thinking throughout this process. This Band-Aid covers up the remaining answers we have from this point on about Linda. And since she does not speak because Timmy and Linda have a “pure knowing” (218) of each other, we don’t know anything else expect for what O’Brien tells us about her.
“She wasn’t bald. Not quite. Not completely.” (222) This further demonstrates that even when the truth is discovered, there is more lurking beneath the surface. This feels as if O’Brien knew that there was more to her Linda’s story and more to the truth and that is why she is not completely bald. If she is bald, then he would know the entire truth, but he doesn’t. He only knows what is being presented to him which is part of the facts.
O’Brien talks about the lake Norman Bowker drives around as a “nucleus around which the story would orbit”. (152) O’Brien is clearly saying that the town is the story, so it is hard to refute the parallel to the nucleus and the actual truth. The nucleus is the truth and the town around it is just the story. O’Brien ambiguously tells the reader that the ‘truth’ being told is never the whole truth; never the whole picture. There is always something more that can’t be seen or felt.
Towards the end of the book, O’Brien is dreaming and he imagines what Linda would describe as being dead. She equates it to “being inside a book that nobody’s reading” (245) Even if someone is reading your book there is still...