Metafiction in The Things They Carried

Here’s my take on Tim O’Brien’s book The Things They Carried:


When we look at Tim O’Brien’s book The Things They Carried, we delve into a very deeply thoughtful book about metafiction.

However sometimes we need to take a step back from analysis and think as if we were the writer. Tim O’Brien’s goal in the book was the question the difference between reality and fiction and to blur the line between these two concepts. He makes us question what actually happened, and what the point of each chapter in the book.

I agree that this book talks about the concept of the past and how memories are recorded. How there is no true past, and everyone isn’t exactly wrong. He demonstrates this by his repetition of the same story (yet never the same details) and by his complete lack of structure in respect to the time in which the stories occur. The stories jump between the time and point of view.

Then the question of what is true and what is not true gets asked. And the response is both true and not true. True because it cannot be proven false and false because it cannot be proven true. To assert that a portion of the story is true and then go on to assert that because of that portion of logic that another portion of the story is false is completely bogus.

He makes us think of what history is. What the past is. What we are as people. History is an interesting being. To say The Things They Carried is completely fiction is to say that The Odyssey is merely a child’s tale. The fact that we can’t verify the truth, makes the point of truth pointless. We cannot say anything in the past happened, and vise-versa, we cannot say anything in the past didn’t happen.

Tim O’Brien has no motivation to tell whether the book is true or not. And so he doesn’t attempt to clarify. That is the beauty within this work of art. But even if O’Brien tried to answer, he can’t be correct. Memories get altered to a point that it is impossible to know whether something happened or not (There is a study on how recalling memories causes them to be altered).

In the end, whether or not the stories within the book are true, it doesn’t matter in the end. It is a fiction book is to make us experience a world outside of our own. It opens our mind and makes us wonder. And that’s what O’Brien does. Perfectly.

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