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O’Brien’s Things They Carried Essay: Truth, Fiction, and Human Emotion

The Things They Carried: Truth, Fiction, and Human Emotion

There are many levels of truth in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. This novel deals with story-telling as an act of communication and therapy, rather than a mere recital of fact. In the telling of war stories, and instruction in their telling, O’Brien shows that truth is unimportant in communicating human emotion through stories.

O’Brien’s writing style is so vivid, the reader frequently finds himself accepting the events and details of this novel as absolute fact. To contrast truth and fiction, the author inserts reminders that the stories are not fact, but are mere representations of human emotion incommunicable as fact.

O’Brien’s most direct discussion of truth appears in Good Form. He begins with, “It’s time to be blunt,” and goes on to say that everything in the book but the very premise of a foot soldier in Vietnam is invented. This comes as a shock after reading what seems to be a stylized presentation of fact. In the sequence of Speaking of Courage followed by Notes, O’Brien adds a second dimension of truth to a story so vivid that the reader may have already accepted it as the original truth. In Notes, O’Brien steps out of the novel and addresses the reader to discuss the character, Norman Bowker, and the formation and history of the previous story, Speaking of Courage. In a letter from Norman Bowker, Tim O’Brien is asked to write a story about his part in the war. In discussing this, O’Brien presents an elaborate picture of the story’s development and the main character’s real-life demise:

“Speaking of Courage” was written in 1975 at the suggestion of Norman Bowker, who three years later hanged himself in the locker room of a YMC…

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…O’Brien goes beyond the telling of war stories in The Things They Carried to say something larger about the art and purpose of story-telling. Contrasting truth and fiction, O’Brien shows that the truth cannot always communicate human emotion. O’Brien’s personal guilt at seeing a man die from a grenade blast is real, and must be communicated as such in a story. Norman Bowker’s guilt at seeing Kiowa sink into the muck leaves him with a sense of direct personal failure. By incorporating this sense of failure into fictional events, O’Brien is able to communicate the true human emotion behind the story, rather than just the facts. Above and beyond a simple set of war stories, The Things They Carried reduces fiction to the very heart of why stories are told the way they are.

Works Cited:

O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried.New York: Penguin Books USA Inc., 1990.

Freedom and Liberty in Wordsworth’s Prefatory Sonnet

Freedom and Liberty in Wordsworth’s Prefatory Sonnet

William Wordsworth’s “Prefatory Sonnet”, originally published in his book, Poems, In Two Volumes, deals with the concept of liberty as a personal goal and its relevance on the larger political spectrum. The poet likens Nuns and Hermits, who find solace in their confining spaces, to himself and the writing of sonnets. Building upon this framework, Wordsworth makes an important observation about personal liberty and its place in political freedom. Carefully crafted literary elements combine efforts to manipulate tension in the poem, a powerful poetic tool used with precision and perfection to tell the story of liberty: how it is yearned for, its glory, and its consequences.

The poem begins with the sonnet tradition of listing. People of various professions are listed as being content within the confines of their appropriate workspace or abode (later compared to the poet working on sonnets, happily confined within the sonnet’s binding structure). Note the building of tension in the first three lines, an effect maneuvered with diminishing sentence structure and internal rhyming:

Nuns fret not at their Convent’s narrow room;

And Hermits are contented with their Cells;

And Students with their pensive Citadels;

While the first line is a fully independent clause, the second, while also an independent clause, begins with “And,” seemingly a continuation of a sentence started in the first line. The verb is dropped in the third line, creating a dependent clause, and a more hurried feeling than the first and second lines. Finally, the fourth line seems cramped (like the confines holding the Nun, Student, Maids, and Weaver), with two dependent clauses separate…

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… but must be created in politics through the acting liberty of the people. This is what finally brought Napoleon’s tyranny to an end in Europe, and this is what brings this poem to its close.

Nuns fret not at their Convents’ narrow room;

And Hermits are contented with their Cells;

And Students with their pensive Citadels;

Maids at the Wheel, the Weaver at his Loom,

Sit blithe and happy; Bees that soar for bloom,

High as the highest Peak of Furness Fells,

Will murmur by the hour in Foxglove bells;

In truth, the prison, unto which we doom

Ourselves no prison is: and hence to me,

In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound

Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground:

Pleas’d if some Souls (for such there needs must be)

Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,

Should find short solace there, as I have found.

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