Death and Dying in Literature
Edited By John J. Han and Clark C. Triplett
Chapter Twelve: “Stories Can Save Us”: Rewriting Death in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried
| 171 →
“Stories Can Save Us”
Rewriting Death in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried
LORI F. SMURTHWAITE
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...
You are not authenticated to view the full text of this chapter or article.
This site requires a subscription or purchase to access the full text of books or journals.
Do you have any questions? Contact us.Or login to access all content.