Friday, August 13, 2010


The theme of this book is a complex one. There are actually several of them, but the theme I focused on the most was the inability to control one's own life. Life is not fair, and oftentimes the people who deserve something the very least are the ones whom it happens to. Linda is a perfect example. I felt so much compassion and sadness for her as I read about her brain tumor. She seemed like the sweetest girl and never once did she complain about her sickness. Tim is still convinced to this day that they truly loved each other, and I suppose that may in fact be true. That being said, the theme only becomes more powerful that life is not fair. As a young and naive nine year old, Timmy lost the girl he loved before he even came to truly know her. It was a rude awakening to the hard realities of life, and in my opinion a tough way to be introduced to death. However, it is my belief that everything happens for a reason. Therefore there must have been a reason God allowed Linda to die. Maybe Tim had to experience this pain in order to be better prepared for Vietnam later on in his life. Also, in a way, it introduced him to what he loves to do . It gave him the ability to story-tell and bring people back to life through his words and dreams. As an adult, he turned these dreams to novels. We may never understand why things happen to us, but it not necessary for us to understand. That is the mystery of life; we are never fully prepared for what comes next.
"And then it becomes 1990. I'm forty-three years old, and a writer now, still dreaming Linda alive in exactly the same way. She's not the embodied Linda; she's mostly made up, with a new identity and a new name, like the man who never was. Her real name doesn't matter. She was nine years old. I loved her and then she died. And yet right here, in the spell of memory and imagination, I can still see her as if through ice, as if I'm gazing into some other world, a place where there are no brain tumors and no funeral homes, where there are no bodies at all." (page 232)
And lastly:
"I'm young and happy. I'll never die." (page 233)
As long as Tim O'Brien writes, he feels like his memory will never die. Since writing is what makes him so peaceful with his life, I'm glad that he has the opportunity to do it.


This chapter made me feel bad for what became of Rat Kiley. He always seemed like such a good guy, so reliable, brave, and a great friend on top of it all. What I remembered most about him was how levelheaded he had stayed after Tim got shot. He kept risking his own life to check on him and to make sure that he was okay. Nice qualities, right? It was for those reasons that made me sad to see he slightly lost his mind. By what he described to his men, it sounded like he was turning towards insanity. He had this obsession with bugs and kept describing how he could see the other soldiers' body parts. He could even imagine his own insides. With disconcerting visions like that, I can completely understand his motivation to injure himself so that he could escape for a little while. What he needed was medical attention, and I feel like he would not have gotten better if he hadn't inflicted that wound upon himself. I was happy that Lieutenant Cross was understanding and said that he would vouch for him that it had been an accident. I hope that in the end Riley was brought back to normal. It would be a shame to lose a good man like him.
"Anyway," Rat said, "the days aren't so bad, but at night the pictures get to be a bitch. I start seeing my own body. Chunks of myself. My own heart, my own kidneys. It's like - I don't know - it's like staring into this huge black crystal ball. One of these nights I'll be lying dead out there in the dark and nobody'll find me except the bugs - I can see it - I can see the goddamn bugs chewing tunnels through me - I can see mongooses munching on my bones. I swear, it's too much. I can't keep seeing myself dead." (page 212)
Gotta hand it to the guy, that sounds pretty nuts. I would have shot myself in the foot too.


As I read this chapter, I found myself repeatedly wondering if Tim O'Brien had in fact been shot twice. Was that a true part of the story, or was that another made up aspect? The way he made it sound it appeared veritable, but then again that's what I thought about the first half of the book.
Anyway, I must be on a personification roll here because in this chapter anthropomorphism also caught my eye.
"[At night] Tiny sounds get heightened and distorted. The crickets talk in code; the night takes on an electric tingle." (page 195)
Clearly, crickets cannot literally talk in code. I thought it was a good comparison though. At times, when I listen to night life, I get the feeling that crickets are in fact communicating somehow. I'll hear one in the distance, and then soon after hear another one coming from a different direction. Weird, but true.
As for Tim's actions in this chapter, I can't say that I blame him really. Admittedly, he went a little overboard and was slightly crueler than I would have liked, but I can see why he felt resentment towards Jorgenson. After all, he endured lots of pain because of his careless mistakes and had to tolerate being made fun of by the other soldiers. No man likes to have his ego bruised.


I can't decide how I feel about this chapter. On one hand I can understand why Tim would want to see the sites of Vietnam again, yet on the other hand I would never want to go back into that murky water again either. I guess it is sort of the same situation for a soldier in any war. After WWII, I know that sometimes people wished to go back and see the sites where they suffered throughout the war - whether that be a concentration camp, internment camp, fort... The places in his stories are the places he most remembers and that affected him most. They are more than mere pieces of land; they are what shaped him into the man he is today. When he looks at those familiar sites, he remembers experiences and the people he was with or the people he lost, not what the land looked like alone. In a weird way, it seemed fitting that he laid Kiowa's moccasins in the filthy water in the spot where he had died. It was like a token to his memory of sorts.
While reading Tim's description of the little field in Quang Ngai, a piece of personification stood out to me.
"This little field, I thought, had swallowed so much. My best friend. My pride. My belief in myself as a man of some small dignity and courage." (page 176)
I found it interesting that he held the land accountable for these feelings. It was as if he had left a piece of his former self there and was hoping to find it when he came back for a second time. Although I cannot say whether he succeeded or not, at least this visit was one of peace rather than one of violence.


Okay listen here, Mr. O'Brien. This whole book is diminishing before my eyes. He just spent an entire novel describing "his own experiences" in Vietnam to turn around and tell the reader that all of them weren't true. Was that really necessary? I feel like the book would have been better if he would have kept that little detail to himself. Now the book feels different to me, like it doesn't mean as much. Granted, I understand his point that all of these incidences very well could have happened, but the central point of why I liked this book is now gone - the fact that it was a personal story. This is an exemplary illustration of ambiguity. O'Brien is completely contradicting himself this entire chapter. Honestly, I don't see where his logic is going at all. He may think he convinced his readers of some greater point of "story-truth" and "happening-truth", but he didn't at all. What I took from this chapter was that he lied and has convinced himself it was some method of channeling his personal guilt through writing.
"Here is the happening-truth. I was once a soldier. There were many bodies, real bodies with real faces, but I was young then and afraid to look. And now, twenty years later, I'm left with faceless responsibility and faceless grief... What stories can do, I guess, is make things present. I can look at things I never looked at. I can attach faces to grief and love and pity and God. I can be brave. I can make myself feel again." (page 172)
Like I said, he convinced himself that this helps but seeing as how he took this long to inform the reader, I feel like the book is a fabrication.


The tone in this chapter is relatively pronounced in my opinion. I took it as a tone of guilt. There seemed to be several different characters who felt partly to blame for Kiowa's death. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, for starters. He felt bad for following orders and setting up camp in a giant muck-infested river when he had the instinct to move somewhere else in the first place. It kept flooding at night and there was no protection around them leaving his entire troop vulnerable to attack. He continuously beats himself up about his mistake, and spends much of the chapter debating on how best to write a letter to Kiowa's father and explain his remorse for his death. Another man who feels guilty is the "young soldier" who is not mentioned by name throughout the chapter. To me, he is the one who should probably feel the most guilty in the encounter. Because of his flashlight, he was what gave their location away and put them under attack.
"He remembered switching on his flashlight. A stupid thing to do, but he did it anyway, and he remembered Kiowa leaning in for a look at the picture - 'Hey, she's cute,' he'd said - and then the field exploded all around them. Like murder, the boy thought. The flashlight made it happen. Dumb and dangerous. And as a result his friend Kiowa was dead." (page 163)
Maybe I wouldn't hold him so accountable if he had shown a little more emotion in the aftermath. The thing that appalled me the most was how the next day, while the other soldiers were searching for Kiowa's body, he was by himself looking for the picture of his girlfriend that he had lost instead. Seriously? For Christ's sake, it's a picture and he is at war. Shouldn't he be more concerned about the fact that he is partly responsible for the death of his own friend? He said they were close, so why isn't he acting like it? What I also realized later on was that O'Brien never mentioned his own whereabouts during this chapter... Does that mean that he himself was the "young soldier" but was too ashamed to mention his own name? There's some food for thought.
Yet another who feels some guilt is Azar for making jokes about the way that Kiowa died. Granted it wasn't kind or compassionate, but I think that he was only attempting to deal with his own grief. I don't think he honestly meant anything hurtful by it because he apologized later. As for Norman Bowker, I don't see how he felt guilty at all. He didn't do anything wrong at whatsoever. In fact, he did the man justice by finding his body and working to dig him out so that he could be sent home. Those are my observations at least.

As a sidenote that has nothing to do with tone, did this catch anyone else's attention?
Azar smiled and said, "Classic."
Maybe it's just me, but I immediately thought of Alan in the Hangover. haha :)


I liked how O'Brien took the time to explain his motivation for writing the chapter "Speaking of Courage". I feel like it gave some justice to Norman Bowker and explained to some extent why he had ended his own life. I'm sure there are many people who will never understand his actions, but then again I don't think it is necessary for them to have to understand. Every single occurrence affects another human being differently in life. No two people ever react exactly the same to the challenges they are given to face. For Norman, I just think that the war was too much for him. After it was over he couldn't go back to being the same person and he couldn't shake himself of his worst memories. It is unfortunate that he never got to see the revised version of his story in its' full glory before he died. I really think that he would have liked it. A part that I especially liked of the account was how the author wrapped it up at the end. I thought it was considerate of him to do in Bowker's memory.
"In the interests of truth, however, I want to make it clear that Norman Bowker was in no way responsible for what happened to Kiowa. Norman did not experience a failure of nerve that night. He did not freeze up or lose the Silver Star for valor. That part of the story is my own." (page 154)
Where O'Brien inserted clips of Norman's own letter to him, I was reminded of the use of essay. An essay in which Norman was discussing his thoughts on the topic of Vietnam.
"What you should do, Tim, is write a story about a guy who feels like he got zapped over in that shithole. A guy who can't get his act together and just drives around town all day and can't think of any damn place to go and doesn't know how to get there anyway. This guy want to talk about it, but he can't..." (page 151)


Okay, so let me get this straight. In the chapter before this, O'Brien was talking about the man he killed and now the war is over? Just like that? There's no stories in between there? That seems random to me. I don't really like how he keeps skipping around all over the place because it makes the story harder to follow sometimes. I'm not sure what the significance of this chapter was, but the only character it concentrated on was Norman Bowker. To be honest, he wasn't doing anything particularly interesting either. All he did for the majority of the chapter was drive on the same 7 mile stretch of road for hours on end. What this chapter sort of showed me was how many of the soldiers probably didn't know what to do with their lives once they were back home. Lots of time had passed by while they were away, and everyone else had moved on without them. This became clear when Norman mentioned a girl he had dated back in high school who was now married. Although he kept trying to clear his mind of her, the idea of her being married to someone else seemed to really bother him.
The literary term that caught my attention in this chapter was a simile. Norman pulled into a drive-in restaurant to eat dinner and his description of the waitress was unusual.
"Her eyes were as fluffy and airy-light as cotton candy." (page 145)
It sounded like a compliment on his part, but I couldn't quite figure out what kind of eyes would remind me of cotton candy. Was he referring to the color? Perhaps they were a light blue or something of the sort. How can eyes be fluffy? I thought that maybe he could have perceived her eyes as fluffy if she was a bubbly girl but her behavior made it sound like she wasn't the friendliest.
"The young carhop turned slowly, as if puzzled, then said something to the boys in the Firebird and moved reluctantly toward him... 'You blind?' she said. She put out her hand and tapped an intercom attached to a steel post. 'Punch the button and place your order. All I do is carry the dumb trays.'" (page 145)
Like I said, she didn't seem like a character brimming with optimism and enthusiasm for her job which was why the simile threw me off.

Stream of Consciousness

While reading this chapter, I was reminded of the literary term stream of consciousness. The chapter itself was a continuation of describing the man Tim killed, but this time instead of focusing on the aftermath of the encounter it centered around what happened right before and his reasoning for killing him. As it turns out, the man whom O'Brien killed was a little more innocent than I thought. I was imagining them fighting in some big battle scene and Tim desperately throwing out a grenade to save his own life. In reality, the man was merely passing through on the trail they were guarding and probably would have continued on his way without harm if not for the grenade setback. This chapter is what makes me feel real sympathy for the author. He explained what he was thinking at the time and lets the reader get an idea of how he was really feeling.
"It was entirely automatic. I did not hate the young man; I did not see him as the enemy; I did not ponder issues of morality or politics or military duty. I crouched and kept my head low. I tried to swallow whatever was rising from my stomach, which tasted like lemonade, something fruity and sour. I was terrified. There were no thoughts about killing." (page 126)
With this insight, it becomes clear to the reader that he genuinely did not wish death upon the other soldier. He was only doing what he had been trained to do; not allowing himself to stop and contemplate the consequences. As a soldier, he did nothing wrong. As a man, I can completely understand why he still feels guilty. Although it's easy for me to say that he should not feel guilty because he did the right thing, it's a completely different situation to be the person who actually killed the man and wonder for the rest of your life if it was truly the 'right' thing. All I can say is that I'm happy I wasn't in his shoes that day.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


This next chapter was absolutely jam-packed with imagery. It was entirely about the first man that Tim killed and went over-the-top in graphic detail. That image of the man lying on the ground must have been permanently etched in his mind the rest of his life.
"His jaw was in his throat, his upper lip and teeth were gone, his one eye was shut, his other eye was a star-shaped hole, his eyebrows were thin and arched like a woman's, his nose was undamaged, there was a slight tear at the lobe of one ear, his clean black hair was swept upward into a cowlick at the rear of the skull, his forehead was lightly freckled, his fingernails were clean, the skin at his left cheek was peeled back in three ragged strips, his right cheek was smooth and hairless, there was a butterfly on his chin, his neck was open to the spinal cord and the blood there was thick and shiny and it was this wound that had killed him." (page 118)
It continued on further but I thought that you'd get the idea. Once again, I cannot imagine how Tim must have been feeling after killing another human being. It was easy to see that he was overcome with guilt, but the truth of the matter is that's just the way war works. If he had not acted the way he had, there was a good chance that the man who he killed would have killed him instead. It's not fair and it seems impossible to do, but in reality it's what must be done in order to survive. Last year, Mrs. Helbing told my class that a famous man (I don't remember his name unfortunately) once said to a man joining the military, "Now remember: it is not your job to die for your country, is your job to make sure that the other man out there dies for his country." To me, this seemed like a good piece of advice. When it comes down to it, war is war and nothing is fair. I feel sympathy for Tim but I hope that other readers understand that it was an action of survival. I'm sure I would have taken it just as hard if it were me in the same circumstance.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Metaphor & Symbol

Yet again, O'Brien changed focus and centered his next chapter around the character Henry Dobbins. I found it interesting how he opened the story with a metaphor that compared him to our country.
"In many ways he was like America itself, big and strong, full of good intentions, a roll of fat jiggling at his belly, slow of foot but always plodding along, always there when you needed him, a believer in the virtues of simplicity and directness and hard labor." (page 111)
Where exactly was Tim going with that when he compared Dobbins to America? Although I failed to see the point of his opening description, I enjoyed the chapter. I thought it was humorous how he had a strange fetish with his girlfriend's pantyhose. Weird maybe, but still humorous. He's definitely a guy I'm gonna remember because of that. Not to mention, he must be the luckiest guy in the world or his pantyhose must really be magical because he survived at least two incredibly close calls and always came out unscathed. I'd kill for luck like that!

Continuing on, the soldiers set up camp at a church pagoda for a week. Here I found it sort of interesting to hear some of the men talk about their religious views. Dobbins, for instance thought more highly of the monks than I would have guessed. There were also a few symbols that I figured had to be important to the monks helping the American soldiers. Since they did not have the ability to speak English, I got this idea due to their behavior and gestures.
"On the second day the older monk carried in a cane chair for the use of Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, placing it near the altar area, bowing and gesturing for him to sit down. The old monk seemed proud of the chair, and proud that such a man as Lieutenant Cross should be sitting in it." (page 114)
My conjecture is that the chair was probably something symbolic of power or influence in their faith and they felt honored to share it. Another symbolic gesture the monks kept repeating was a washing motion with their hands. I'm still not sure as to what that meant, but I'm getting the vibe that it was a peaceful one since they always did it in a courteous manner. Perhaps these gestures were like the sign of the cross in our faith.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


I'm not really sure whether this chapter had real importance in terms to the story or not, but either way the author certainly spent enough time describing the character Mary Anne. At first, she fit the stereotype of a woman in the 1960's quite well. She was proper and ladylike and easy to get along with.
"This was Vietnam, after all, and Mary Anne Bell was an attractive girl. Too wide in the shoulders, maybe, but she had terrific legs, a bubbly personality, a happy smile. The men genuinely liked her." (page 90)
Her clothing is also mentioned from time to time. She wore appropriate things for the time period such as blouses, skirts, sweaters, and culottes (which from context clues I'm guessing are shoes). She seemed like a pleasant character that might add some substance to the novel. As the chapter progressed; however, her character took quite a different turn. In the beginning the changes were small and I figured they were simply ways that she was adjusting to life in Vietnam.
"No cosmetics, no fingernail filing. She stopped wearing jewelry, cut her hair short and wrapped it in a dark green bandanna. Hygiene became a matter of small consequence." (page94)
That didn't sound so bad I thought. Not really. So she had made a few adjustments, no big deal. She'd go back to normal when she went back to the States. Unfortunately, events did not pan out exactly as I thought. Mary Anne became distant from the others and almost savage-like. She lost her former sense of herself and became an entirely different person. Truthfully, she couldn't have strayed any further from her former stereotype than she had.
"In part it was her eyes: utterly flat and indifferent. There was no emotion in her stare, no sense of the person behind it. But the grotesque part, he said, was her jewelry. At the girl's throat was a necklace of human tongues. Elongated and narrow, like pieces of blackened leather, the tongues were threaded along a length of copper wire, one tongue overlapping the next, the tips curled upward as if caught in a final shrill syllable." (page 106)
Maybe it's just me, but I personally find that disgusting. The fact that she is wearing human organs like prized possessions has to be a sign that she went off the deep end. Maybe Mark Fossie was lucky for finding out how demented his girlfriend was before he made the mistake of marrying her.

Monday, August 9, 2010


I had already picked up on the fact that Curt Lemon was sort of a crazy dude, but this chapter only strengthened that idea. I could tell that he was a man who felt the need to be tough and in control. A show off, really. He wanted everyone to be impressed at his crazy antics and fearless attitude - or as some might say, his stupidity. His encounter with the dentist was honestly a little ridiculous. I don't blame him for being embarrassed at his reaction because truthfully I would have been too. Here he is, some supposedly macho tough guy who passed out before the dentist even opened his mouth. I wonder what kind of "bad experiences with dentists" he was thinking of when the other soldiers asked him why he was acting weird. They must have been pretty terrible to terrify him like that, right? I'm curious at least. On another note, because I understand Curt Lemon's character, I can also completely understand his motivation for faking a toothache later that night. He was so embarrassed of his reaction to the dentist that he felt the need to redeem himself as brave and manly. He complained about a nonexistent toothache until the dentist pulled out one of his teeth merely to prove that he was tough enough to handle it. This Lemon guy must have had some serious self-esteem issues back home.
"The dentist couldn't find any problem, but Lemon kept insisting, so the man finally shrugged and shot in the Novocain and yanked out a perfectly good tooth. There was some pain, no doubt, but in the morning Curt Lemon was all smiles." (page84)

Parallel Structure

I'm not gonna lie, this chapter threw me for a loop. It was remarkably philosophical, but at the same time barely made any sense. Just as I would start to catch on to what he was saying he would start talking in a completely different direction and I'd be lost again. He kept rambling about generalizing war and would follow these statements with conflicting (or antithetical, if you're feeling ambitious) thoughts. Perhaps him writing these accounts down is his own way of trying to make sense of his confusion. The war clearly affected him and changed him as a person, so I feel like writing this novel was more for himself than for his readers.
His repetitive nature was what reminded me of parallelism.
"War is hell, but that's not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead." (page 76)
Clearly, the second part is where the parallelism is in his description of war. It is entirely balanced. The first part was just an incredibly long run-on. All I'm saying is that O'Brien better watch out with sentences like that or he'll get an automatic D+ on a Roncalli writing assignment.


When the author started talking about Jensen and Strunk's agreement, I automatically got a sense of foreshadowing of a detrimental event approaching. Their pact basically said that if one of them should ever get mortally injured, the other would have to find a way to put them out of their misery and end it for them. I found this highly unsettling. I mean, I don't think I'd ever agree to kill one of my friends if they were in immense pain. Should they get injured, I would think that I would want to try everything to save their life rather than take it. Injury or not, being alive is being alive. Those soldiers had families and wives and children and friends waiting back home for them. No matter what appendages were missing, I can guarantee that a soldier's mother would want their son back rather than a flag.
Sure enough, soon afterwards Lee Strunk stepped on a rigged mortar round and blew off half of his leg. When it came down to it, he realized he didn't want to lose his life at all. I'm sure Jensen felt pressure to honor their contract but was probably even more panicked at what had happened. I'm sure neither of them actually counted on ever having to do that to each other.
"For a time there was some question as to whether Strunk was still alive, but then he opened his eyes and looked up at Dave Jensen. 'Oh, Jesus,' he said, and moaned, and tried to slide away and said, 'Jesus, man, don't kill me.'
'Relax,' Jensen said.
...'Really, it's not so bad. Not terrible. Hey, really - they can sew it back on - really.'" (page63)
I'm quite certain that I wouldn't like to be a soldier at war. Watching a friend of mine die before my eyes would be something I don't know that I could handle.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Dramatic Irony

Regardless of the short length of the chapter, I feel like the outcome of the brief story was filled with dramatic irony. The story demonstrated just what the war did to people, turning them against their own side and making enemies with those who should be trusted. In the army, all they had was themselves and their men. Nothing else. It was them against the enemy and that was all there was to it. It's sort of a scary thought, actually, considering there wasn't opportunity to fight with the ones who were fighting along with them. If soldiers on the same side couldn't even be friends, then there was no chance of winning the war at all.
This chapter also showed how short soldiers' tempers could become. Dave Jensen and Lee Strunk got into a meaningless fight over a missing jackknife, and Dave ended up breaking Lee's nose because of it. Afterwards I think he felt so guilty that he felt the need to make up for it somehow. In the end, he decided to break his own nose as a way of apologizing. Strunk went along with it and said that there were no hard feelings anymore.
That was where I saw the dramatic irony. Dave Jensen inflicted pain on himself to be freed of the guilt he felt for hurting Lee Strunk about his missing jackknife when he thought he was actually innocent. What he didn't realize was that Lee really had stolen it and he hadn't been crazy for accusing him in the first place.
"Strunk nodded and said, Sure, things were square. But in the morning Lee Strunk couldn't stop laughing. 'The man's crazy,' he said. 'I stole his fucking jackknife.'" (page 61)
Poor Dave. He broke his nose for no reason after all.


Although this is not normally a literary term I pick up on, I thought that this chapter was full of an ongoing antithesis between Tim being brave and cowardly. For the first time, he really opens up about what emotions he felt when he got his draft letter and what was going through his mind at that age.
"I was bitter, sure. But it was so much more than that. The emotions went from outrage to terror to bewilderment to guilt to sorrow and then back again to outrage. I felt a sickness inside of me. Real disease." (page 43)
Allowing the reader to enter his thought process makes the story that much more realistic and meaningful. It makes me start to wonder what kind of emotions I would be feeling if I had just received a draft letter in the mail. My dad told me once that he had been lucky while in college and they hadn't drafted him at the time. Unfortunately, his brother wasn't so fortunate and got sent to Vietnam instead. Luckily he survived, but at times I've wondered if it would have been the same circumstance for my father. I consider it fortuitous that he never had to go.
I think Elroy Berdahl is a significant character in this novel. In my opinion, O'Brien probably would never have gone back to Minnesota if it weren't for his presence. He gave him the opportunity to leave his responsibility and allowed him to choose to stay. That way, Tim wouldn't spend his life wondering whether he should travel to Canada or not; he knew what his decision would be. The antithesis I found intriguing was when he came to his final decision.
"I would go to the war - I would kill and maybe die - because I was embarrassed not to." (page 57) And then once again later.
"I survived, but it's not a happy ending. I was a coward. I went to the war." (page 58)
I thought that him going to war would make him decide that he was brave rather than a coward. However, since he wasn't going for the right reasons, I suppose he condemned himself as a coward thereafter.


To illustrate the point that not every memory of the war was a bloody one, the narrator shared a few quick anecdotes of peace or happiness that he remembered as well. They weren't necessarily stories of great significance, but they were stories nonetheless. One line in particular that stood out to me in my reading was this:
"I guess, she's right: I should forget it. But the thing about remembering is that you don't forget." (page 33)
To me, that was a powerful statement. I'm a person who always remembers little details, and I find that the more I try to forget something the more difficult it becomes to let it go. Forgetting events in one's past only happens when the person himself doesn't realize it happening. So if the event was something worthwhile or memorable, the odds of forgetting it are rather low. Something like the Vietnam war would be impossible to forget I think.
Also, I found that my suspicion of the author being the narrator was correct. It was revealed in dialogue between himself and Norman Bowker.
"I'll tell you something, O'Brien. If I could have one wish, anything, I'd wish for my dad to write me a letter and say it's okay if I don't win any medals. That's all my old man talks about, nothing else." (page 34)
This made me like the book even more. I feel like it's more than just made up stories now, it's real. What I'm reading are the accounts of real men, with real families and real personalities. These were the men who chose to serve our country when they were only a year or two older than myself. That's a pretty scary thought. An even scarier thought is imagining the horrors they had to face - like killing the enemy.
"A slim, dead, dainty young man of about twenty.
Kiowa saying, 'No choice, Tim. What else could you do?'
Kiowa saying, 'Right?'
Kiowa saying, 'Talk to me.'" (page 36)
I don't know how I would deal with the guilt if that were me.

Point of View

The first thing I noticed about this chapter was that it completely switched point of views from omniscient to first person. It became apparent in the opening sentences as the narrator discussed a personal story between himself and another character the audience has already been introduced to. Consequently, this brought many questions to my mind. Who is the speaker? Have we, the audience, already met him? Why is the author flash-forwarding all the way after the war when so far there has only been one chapter?
Perhaps the narrator is the author himself, Tim O'Brien. After all, he did say that he wished to write a story about their experiences.

"At the end, though, as we were walking out to his car, I told him that I'd like to write a story about some of this. Jimmy thought it over and gave me a small smile. 'Why not?' he said." (page 28)

I mean, isn't that what this book essentially is? As of right now, I suspect the novel might be a recollection of Tim's own personal war experiences as a soldier.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Things They Carried - Motif

Unlike The Sun Also Rises, O'Brien's title has perceptible reasoning behind it. It immediately develops as a motif used often throughout the first chapter. His narration paints a much more ideal and realistic picture to the reader of what being a soldier was truly like in the Vietnam war.

"The things they carried were largely determined by necessity." (page 2)
"What they carried was partly a function of rank, partly of field specialty." (page 5)
"They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried." (page 7)
"What they carried varied by mission." (page 8)
"The things they carried were determined to some extent by superstition." (page 12)
"They carried their own lives. The pressures were enormous." (page 15)
"They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die." (page 20)

Each time I reread this phrase, it made me realize just how much these men had at stake. They carried essential items, items for fun, ones for protection, and others for survival. There was nothing happy or easy about being a soldier. It was a lifestyle of fear, hard work, and bearing things that seemed impossible to carry all at once - whether being tangible or intangible. Then it made me start to think about my experience on summer field studies this past summer. When I was on backcountry, I thought I might collapse trying to carry all that ridiculously heavy gear uphill at once. But that must have been how these soldiers felt every step of the way through the terrain of Vietnam. It made me feel bad for complaining when it could have been a much worse situation. At least when I got to the end of the trail there was relief and good times to look forward to. I don't think that was ever the case with these men. I was luckier than I realized.