Tim O’Brien – The Things They Carried

No Matter How You Look At It

Based on/Inspired By: The Things They Carried, by Author Tim O’Brien


At first, I didn’t want to read The Things They Carried.  “Ugh.  Great, another war book,” I thought.  In the past, I’ve hated war related books and movies.  However, I was very pleasantly surprised by Tim O’Brien’s writing and storytelling style.  I like the way O’Brien’s sentences are written down as if they were being spoken in normal conversational speech.  Sometimes sentences are short and choppy.  Other times the sentences may run on for the length of an entire paragraph.  Some people may find this confusing or hard-to-follow, but I love it.  This technique is so natural that it makes the pages a steady flow of thought, rather than wasted ink used to meet a meaningless deadline.  I like the matter-of-fact tone of his stories.  He is able to explain and express certain things clearly without cluttering up sentences or eliminating the essence of the meaning in an experience.  Many things are a certain way no matter how you look at them.


I loved reading O’Brien’s book because it breathed life into a topic that has always been dull and meaningless to me.  I have realized now, though, that I never truly hated war stories at all.  I simply hated the idea of war and needless killing.  I never realized that there was a whole nother side to the aspect of war.  It was in the lives of these men that the war truly existed.  The things they experienced linked them all together and made them brothers and friends.  I can understand so much better now how the war affected people and what went on in a man’s mind while he was a soldier.  Now I am able to appreciate what it means when someone says “I was in the war.”

The Things They Carried, has been an extremely personal account of events and feelings surrounding the Vietnam war.  In the first chapter of the book, the author explains what the soldiers carry.  Some of these things are physical objects; others are emotional and mental burdens carried by those who cherish them.  The chapters all contain brief snippets of how the men’s lives were forever altered by the war.  They either lost some material thing, a sense of peace and contentment, or a piece of themselves.


Several of the men have lost love, joyfulness, and meaning.  As a result of the war, several men lost the ideal life they would have probably had, had they not been drafted into the war.  Many men lost their families, girlfriends, friends, and the ability to form healthy, normal relationships with other people.  Nearly all the men lost any sense of morality that they may have had when they entered the war.  Each man had his own personal battles going on in conjunction with the war.  Paranoia, edginess, and viciousness were things no man could avoid during the war; some couldn’t avoid it even after.


The author conveys a sense of reality in the concept of war.  He makes it something concrete that can be easily understood, yet impossible to fathom at the same time.  He is able to give us glimpses of the relationships the men formed with each other and how they were all able to bond because they were in the same situation.  No one volunteered for this, and nearly everyone yearned to be elsewhere.  Nevertheless, all the men were there together.  They looked after each other as best they could and did their duties.  Above all, they feared.  This fear caused them to participate in the war and to become ruthless killing machines.  After all, it’s kill or be killed.


I find the novel very attention grabbing and couldn’t wait to turn the next page.  “And in the end, of course, a true war story is never about war.” (p. 85)  He writes about life, and I soak it all in eagerly, understanding so much more.  War was a part of life for these men.  They did their duty and this is how one of them feels about it.



6 February 2008

Heart Connections

Based on/Inspired by: The Things They Carried, by Author Tim O’Brien

And in the end, of course, no true war story is ever about war.  It’s about sunlight.  It’s about the special way that dawn spreads out on a river when you know you must cross the river and march into the mountains and do things you are afraid to do.  It’s about love and memory.  It’s about sorrow.  It’s about sisters who never write back and people who never listen.”  (How to Tell a True War Story – O’Brien 85)

No true war story is ever about war.”  A true story is never really only about the actually material it’s made of.  A true story can’t be limited by a category or the one word topic it’s based on.  If any story is to be a worthwhile story, it will have a point, or several deeper meanings.  The wonderful thing about the human psyche is that we are able to spin nearly all scenarios around to allow ourselves to relate to others.  In good songs, you can nearly always find an element that applies to you.  This applies just as readily to good stories.  We are free to interpret meanings for ourselves.  Even great works of knowledge like The Bible are available for individual assessment and application to our own circumstance.

Life happens no matter where you are, or what you’re doing there.  The war was just a circumstance, as all plots are; just a foundation for all the heart connections and relationships these men formed with each other.  The war was merely a detail, a background for their lives.  It was never about war for any of them.  Throughout time, where you were and what you had never really meant anything.  The only thing that did was who you met there, and what you felt.  We create bonds and build bridges between hearts through memories; when or where never mattered.

It’s about…march[ing] into the mountains [to do] things you are afraid to do” is the epitome of all the situations in your life when you’ve been headed straight for the horrid inevitable.  He writes about the essence of fear against the steady trudge forward of time.  We can’t stop and delay its onset or sit and wait for it.  Life happens no matter what we do to try and halt it.  John Lennon once wrote in one of his songs, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  I’d say he’s right for most people.

“It’s about love and memory.  It’s about sorrow.”  O’Brien means that stories are about sharing and expressing love and remembering the past.  “The thing about remembering is that you don’t forget.  You take your material where you find it, which is in your life, at the intersection of past and present.”  (Spin – O’Brien 34)  Some stories are told while feeling sad that the experience has become little more than a story now, but others are told to celebrate that they happened.  There is hope in storytelling.  You hope people will come to understand things a little better.

It’s about sunlight.  It’s about the special way that dawn spreads out on a river…  It’s about sisters who never write back and people who never listen.”  Tim O’Brien is trying to say that it’s these things in life that matter the most.  Stories are about sharing and expressing love and remembering the past.  Basic human connections and relationships are what mattered, and always will matter, the most.  They are the only parts worth mentioning.  Without the love and support of family and friends, life is merely existence; happiness mearly a myth.  In the end, there really is no such thing as a true war story; unless, of course, you can feel it as a life story.  More than anything, this novel is about connection.  The stories connect us, bring us together across time.  Not just war stories, but all stories.

25 February 2008

Connect With Me

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s