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The Final Crossing

Death and Dying in Literature


Edited By John J. Han and Clark C. Triplett

Since ancient times, writers and poets have grappled with death, dying, grief, and mourning in their works. The Final Crossing: Death and Dying in Literature compiles fifteen in-depth, scholarly, and original essays on death and dying in literature from around the globe and from different time periods. Written from a variety of critical perspectives, the essays target both scholars and serious students. Death and dying is an important area of study for a variety of disciplines, including psychology, psychiatry, sociology, gerontology, medical ethics, healthcare science, health law, and literary studies. The Final Crossing is a landmark compendium of academic essays on death and dying in literary texts, such as the Iliad, Ḥayy ibn Yaqẓān, Hamlet, The Secret Garden, and The Grapes of Wrath. This collection of essays not only brings an international flavor, but also a unique angularity to the discourse on thanatology. The novelty of perspectives reflects the diverse cultural and intellectual backgrounds of the contributors. This diversity opens up a fresh conversation on a number of age-old questions related to «the final crossing.» In this volume, readers will find an intriguing array of topics for further reflection and research.
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Chapter Twelve: “Stories Can Save Us”: Rewriting Death in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried


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“Stories Can Save Us”

Rewriting Death in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried



Readers familiar with the ongoing critical discussion of Tim O’Brien’s fiction will have recognized that one of the most frequently explored aspects of his work is his persistent tendency to blur fiction and fact, imagination and memory, story and truth. Tobey C. Herzog comments that O’Brien “frequently introduces narrative deception and contradictions [lies] into his novels” and “draw[s] attention to his narrators’ and his own unreliability” (893). Maria S. Bonn argues that the structure of the novel Going After Cacciato (1978) makes it difficult for readers to “be certain about what is present, past, and dreamed, what is the book’s fiction, and what is its reality” (8). Tina Chen calls The Things They Carried (1990) “quasi-memoiristic” (79), Lucas Carpenter describes the stories in the work as “fragments of Vietnam experience constructed from both memory and imagination” (48), and Herzog explains that O’Brien purposefully “creates confusion in […] readers’ minds about whether details in the story emerge from O’Brien’s memory or imagination” (896). Even O’Brien’s supposed memoir, If I Die in a Combat Zone (1975), is, in Herzog’s words, “marked by a jumbled chronology and fictional techniques of dialogue, scene setting, dramatic heightening, imagery, and symbolism. The fictional devices so dominate the factual events that early publishers of the book had difficulty deciding whether the content was...

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