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Fact Verses Fiction in O’Brien’s The Things They Carried

Fact Verses Fiction in O’Brien’s The Things They Carried

“The difference between fairy tales and war stories is that fairy tales begin with ‘Once upon a time,’ while war stories begin with ‘Shit, I was there!'” (Lomperis 41). How does one tell a good war story? Is it important to be accurate to the events that took place? Does the reader need to trust the narrator? In The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien examines what it takes to tell a good war story. He uses his own experiences in Vietnam in conjunction with his imagination to weave together a series of short stories into a novel.

First, the reader must understand just what makes a good “war story”. The protagonist of the novel, Tim O’Brien, gives us his interpretation of it in the chapter “How to Tell a True War Story”.

A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit if rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil (O’Brien 68-69).

With this concept, we can assess and place value on the stories presented in The Things They Carried. Yet, it is still not that simple. The reader is continually challenged to question what is real and what is imagined. The evaluation of each narrator is constant. While the protagonist continues to remind the …

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…y matter if they’re true stories (Lomperis 54).

Works Cited

Bonn, Maria S. “Can Stories Save Us? Tim O’Brien and the efficacy of the text (The Vietnam War).” CRITIQUE: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 36.1 (Fall 1994); 2-16.

Calloway, Catherine. “How to tell a true war story: Metafiction in ‘The Things They Carried’.” CRITIQUE: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 36.4 (Summer 1995); 249-258.

Kaplan, Steven. “The Undying Uncertainty of the Narrator in Tim O’Brien’s ‘The Things They Carried’.” CRITIQUE: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 35.1 (Fall 1993); 43-53.

Lomperis, Timothy J. “Reading the Wind” The Literature of the Vietnam War . Durham: Duke UP, 1987.

Neilson, Jim. Warring Fictions: American Literary Culture and the Vietnam War Narrative. Jackson: Mississippi UP, 1998

O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried . New York: Broadway, 1990.

Gender Roles in Macbeth

Gender Roles in Macbeth

Although written long ago, Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Macbeth still has themes relevant for contemporary society. Murderous ambition, political intrigue, crafty social alliances, the disintegration of marriage – these could be headlines from any daily news program. It comes as no surprise, then, that we also find a significant number of moments in the play where gender seems to be an issue. More specifically, we might say that Shakespeare’s dramatic investigation into proper uses of power consists, in part, of a rigorous critique of the disparities between the respective roles assigned to men and women. Shakespeare seems especially interested in the moral and ethical implications of such discrepancies. In the interest of space and time, I will focus here on only a few brief moments from act one. However, I encourage you to note the further development of these points as the drama unfolds in subsequent scenes.

In the very first scene of Macbeth we learn what Duncan and his people value in masculine identity. When the sergeant staggers in to report what he has seen of Macbeth in battle, we are given an image of a thane who is steeped in gore:

For brave Macbeth (well he deserves that name),

Disdaining Fortune, with his brandish’d steel,

Which smok’d with bloody execution,

Like Valour’s minion carv’d out his passage,

Till he fac’d the slave;

Which ne’er shook hands, nor bade farewell to him,

Till he unseam’d him from the nave to th’chops,

And fix’d his head upon our battlements. (1.2.16-23)

The king’s response to this account is especially telling: “O valiant cousin, worthy gentleman!” (1.2.16-24) demonstrates as much appreciation for the manner in which Macbeth overcame h…

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…41). By play’s end, we are confronted with her madness, the result of an excruciating tension between her identity as a woman and the desire to accommodate a misconceived and fatally monstrous masculinity.

Although I do not intend here to resolve the question of gender in Macbeth (actually, I hope to provoke further thoughts on interpretation), I do wish to note that Shakespeare has forcefully bound the cultural problem of violence to the promulgation and validation of the roles a community assigns by sex. Read the play; attend a performance; consider the moral and ethical implications bound up in the plot of a would-be king who sheds true manhood even as he fulfills the masculine ideal.

Works Cited:

Shakespeare, William. Macbeth. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. Ed. X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia. 7th ed. New York: Longman, 1999.

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