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Myth of Courage Exposed in The Things They Carried

Ah for a young man

all looks fine and noble if he goes down in war,

hacked to pieces under a slashing bronze blade

he lies there dead. . .but whatever death lays bare

all wounds are marks of glory. (Homer 22.83-87)

As students we are brainwashed by ancient myths such as The Iliad, where war is extolled and the valorous warrior praised. Yet, modern novels such as Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried (THINGS) challenge those very notions. Like The Iliad, THINGS is about war. It is about battles and soldiers, victory and survival, yet the message O’Brien gives us in THINGS runs almost contradictory to the traditional war story. Whereas traditional stories of war take place on battlefields where soldier battles soldier and the mettle of man is tested, O’Brien’s battle occurs in the shadowy, private place of a soldier’s mind. Like the Vietnam War itself, THINGS forces Americans to question the foundations of their beliefs and values because it calls attention to the inner conscience. More than a war story, O’Brien’s The Things They Carried is an expose on personal courage. Gone are the brave and glorious warriors such as those found in the battle of Troy. In THINGS, they are replaced by young men who experience not glory or bravery, but fear, horror, and a personal sense of shame. As mythic courage clashes with the modern’s experience of it, a battle is waged in THINGS that isn’t confined to the rice-patties, jungles, and shit-fields of Vietnam. Carrying more than the typical soldier’s wares, O’Brien’s narrator is armed with an arsenal of feelings and words that slash away at an invisible enemy that is the myth of courage, on an invisible battlefield that is the Vietnam veteran’s mind.

An analysis of structure in …

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…ings They Carried.” Studies in Contemporary Fiction. 35.1 (1993): 43. Expanded Academic ASAP.

Lopez, Ken. “Tim O’Brien: An Introduction to His Writing.” Ken Lopez – Bookseller. 1997. 8 Oct 1999.>.

Works Consulted

Chen, Tina. “‘Unraveling the Deeper Meaning’: Exile and the Embodied Poetics of Displacement in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.” Contemporary Literature. 39.1 (1998): 77. Expanded Academic ASAP.

King, Rosemary. “O’Brien’s ‘How to Tell a True War Story.'” The Explicator. 57.3 (1999): 182. Expanded Academic ASAP.

Passaro, Vince. “The Things They Carried (Review).” Harper’s Magazine. 299.1791 (1999): 80. Expanded Academic ASAP.

Robinson, Daniel. “Getting It Right: The Short Fiction of Tim O’Brien.” Studies in Contemporary Fiction. 40.3 (1999): 257. Expanded Academic ASAP.

The Kitchen God’s Wife and The Bingo Palace

Mythology, Luck, and Fate in The Kitchen God’s Wife and The Bingo Palace

In Amy Tan’s novel, The Kitchen God’s Wife, the author weaves Chinese mythology and beliefs through a woman’s struggle to explain and come to terms with her harrowing past, to her American daughter, Pearl. Aside from the horror invoked by Winnie’s tale of her life in Pre-Communist/Feudal China, the thing that struck me the most about this book was how often the themes of luck and fate crop up in the story. I often found that Winnie reminded me of the character Lipsha from Louise Erdrich’s novel, The Bingo Palace in that both characters seemed to believe that their lives were controlled more by luck/fate than by their own will. While the similarities between the two books do exist, they are very different stories dealing with two cultures far removed from each other in location, beliefs and ways of life. I decided that for this paper, it would be interesting to look at how the ideas of mythology, luck and fate pertain to the culture of the Chinese and Native Americans in these two books. I would also like to look at how Asian Americans and Native Americans assimilate and change their cultural beliefs and practices into the larger “culture” of the United States.

The Oxford Dictionary defines fate as: “1 a power regarded as predetermining events unalterably. 2 a the future regarded as determined by such a power. b an individual’s appointed lot. C the ultimate condition or end of a person or thing (that sealed our fate)”. The aspect of the story that especially stood out for me was the way in which Winnie chalked up everything that happened to her, good and bad, to the state of her luck at the time. It seems as if Winnie believed that she was fated to have bad luck from beginning of her life because of her mother. She tells of her mother marrying into a family where she became the “double second wife” which means she replaced the first “second” wife who had died. Replacing a dead wife was believed to put a woman into a bad-luck position, so perhaps Winnie believed she had inherited her bad luck from her mother and was “doomed” from birth. Winnie even attributes her horrible marriage to Wen Fu as a result of her bad luck.

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