How can a person convey truth in a story about the past? Is it even worth looking for truth when the audience knows that this story has been reiterated a dozen times with each time being slightly different? The author of The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien, would say that the truth does not lie in the events told, but the emotions conveyed. The reason personal stories are told throughout time is not to pass on objective facts of a human’s life, culture, history, etc. but to convey a deeper meaning than chronological events. The question must not be, is this story true, but instead, what is reason behind the telling of this story. In TTTC, the point of each story and each reiteration is the psychological need to work through the trauma the characters faced in Viet Nam.
The analysis of O’Brien’s latest novel can be centered on the meaning behind the telling of each story. The questions that will be answered in this paper are, why do the characters spend so much time looking for truth/moral/meaning in their stories, and, what is the purpose of them reliving, repeating, and changing their stories for the sake of an audience that might not understand them. It is known that TTTC is a war fiction novel so the subjects will be the soldiers in and out of combat, as well as real studies used when encountering veterans using coping mechanisms to function during and post-war.
The first act of a soldier struggling with post-war life is the chapter, “Speaking of Courage,” when the character, Norman Bowker, is trying to work through the loss of a fellow soldier as he drives around his childhood hometown. “The war was over and there was no place in particular to go” (O’Brien 131), “As he came up, a pair of red flares puffed open, a soft blurry glow, and in the glow he saw Kiowa’s wide-open eyes setting down into the scum. All he could do was watch” (142); these quotes show how a soldier can suffer from death even when they have been removed from the environment where death plagued them. The term for this type of psychological plague is morality salience – times when thoughts of death are unavoidable (Goodfriend 93). Usually, this is associated to combat zones or the like because thoughts of death are most unavoidable when surrounded by it.
However, it is not a far stretch to use this term for soldiers who have left the war environment because their psyche has now been infiltrated with traumatic memories that most suffer to work through. Therefore, they are affect almost as badly as they would be if they had never left combat. The repercussions for this psyche is living in a type of limbo- stuck between two states of being. When a new soldier is thrust into the world of combat, they must change mentally in order to survive their new environment. When the time comes for the survivors to return home, it is harder for them to change to how they lived before because their worldviews are drastically different. They cannot connect to the present just as much as...