Saturday, January 29, 2011

Reflections: The Things They Carried

Adam C. Zern offers his thoughts on The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien:

"I had a very unique reaction to The Things They Carried.  It's certainly one of the better written contemporary books I have read in some time.  However, my feelings toward it are somewhat ambivalent.  It almost feels like the book was written in such a way to make you feel that way.  There are moments in the book that the prose borders on the edge of poetry - simple and extremely effective.

At one point Tim O'Brien puts his characters in a flooded Vietnamese rice paddy that has essentially become a giant latrine.  Mortars pound the earth around the soldiers as they try to bury themselves in filth so as to not be buried by death.  Flares paint the Vietnamese sky as mortars fall from it.  All of this is juxtaposed with a character, chronologically later on, wading in a lake back home watching fourth of July fireworks.  It was one of those rare moments that reminded you how powerful and affecting stories can be.

On the other hand, the reader is reminded of the chaos of war and the tragedy that can be human nature.  The book moves from poetry and profound meaning to the mindless work of death that is war with little or no moral to be found.  It is, in a word, ambiguous."


  1. I've heard that Tim O'Brien has never been able to repeat his masterwork. When I read this book, I found myself wondering how much was real, how much imagined, how much literary license--intriguing book.

  2. We discussed that in a class I'm in. There is more to it than just death and war. Yes, it was a bunch of mindless war, and it was a sad story, but it also showed how the characters not only coped with war and death, but how they learned to let go of other things, and it had a psychological aspect of how things are during war. It showed the baggage that each individual carried with them to war and it showed the reader the things that each character valued and how those values changed because of the war.

    As for the story basically trying to make us feel a certain way, you could say that all writing does that. The only way to not be effected by the writing of someone else is to not pay attention to what is being written (or in other words, to not read). We may deside not to agree on what was written, but the writing guided our thoughts to that point.

  3. All writing on a fundamental level is persuasive and didactic. A capable author, in my opinion, will know this basic fact and will write with a goal or intentions in mind. I think Tim O'Brien knew exactly what he was going. It's a well written, engaging, and thoughtful book.