In the book “The Things They Carried”, O’Brien uses imagery, figurative language and repetition to convey his message. O’Brien’s purpose for story telling, is to clear his conscience of war and to tell the stories of soldiers who were forgotten by society. Many young men were sent to war, despite opposing it.
They believed it was “wrong” to be sent to their deaths. Sadly, no one realizes a person’s significance until they die. Only remembering how they lived rather than acknowledging their existence when they were alive.
O’Brien uses a lot of imagery and sensory detail in his stories, many of which make me wonder if these stories are in fact fiction. “His jaw was in his throat, his upper lips and teeth were gone, his one eye was shut, his other eye was a star shaped hole…” pg. 124 The detail of the dead soldier’s body almost seems illusory; as if it was made for the sole purpose of frightening the reader and letting them know the horrors of war. “In many cases a true war story cannot be believed. If you believe it, be skeptical. Often the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn’t, because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness.” Pg. 71 This is very true.
It follows the saying “You can’t handle the truth” because if one hears it, they think it’s a lie, or the truth being stretched. The use of imagery allows the author to express the emotion he had when he was at war. He was a young man in his twenties, pressured by his family and peers to fight for his country despite not wanting to. The use of imagery allows the reader to see through his eyes. Though untrue, the fact is it could have happened. This gives the reader a “taste” of what the soldiers might have experienced. Figurative language is also used throughout the book. A lot of the quotes have “exaggerated” explanations.
One of them is from the chapter “Ambush”. “I leaned back and felt my mind go empty and then felt it fill up again.” Pg. 133The quote is very detailed in the emotion O’Brien felt when he threw the grenade at the young man.
It is complete shock at what he has done. He reacted by instinct. In war you can never be relaxed. You’re constantly on guard, paranoid that someone will kill you if you aren’t alert. By the time he realized what he did, it was already too late. I think figurative language is used to explain what the soldiers felt. Feeling is an emotion and is difficult to explain with just words.
Words such as “shocked” or “traumatized”, don’t thoroughly explain feeling. There just classifications of that feeling, a name. However when emphasized in figurative language, “felt my mind go empty” the reader is able to relate to the experience and in turn “know the feeling”. If it were to be explained in simple terms like “I was speechless”, it becomes “boring”. When expressed in specific detail the reader becomes entranced by the story and continues to read on. It is like a hook, but also a way to express one’s state of mind. I’ve also noticed that O’Brien has repeated some stories several times. The story of Kiowa’s death has been repeated three times.
Each of the stories is from a different perspective. Each story goes in depth of what the person was thinking when they saw Kiowa’s dead body. For some it was shame and for others it was a realization of the cruelty of war. Two particular chapters explain why O’Brien felt the way he did and why he wrote the book. Both “Ambush” and “The Man I Killed” are the same story described in different ways.
In the chapter “Ambush” Kathleen, O’Brien’s daughter, asks if he ever killed a man. Even in the present, even though years have passed since the war, his past has come to haunt him. Just when he thought he could live at peace, the topic of “death” is brought up. In the chapter “The Man I Killed” the reader is able to understand how this one action has led to him have guilt for killing an “innocent” man. He is described in an unsure manner.
“He had been born, maybe in 1946 in the village of My Khe.” Pg. 125In “Ambush” fog is mentioned “dawn began to break through the fog.” Pg. 132 This also adds to the mysteriousness of the man who was killed. Nothing is really known about him and all that is just speculation. The fog explains that the man was “unseen” and died accidently.
O’Brien explains “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.” Pg. pg. 132I believe that the stories are written in fiction intentionally for two reasons. The first reason is to “clean” out his mind of the horrors he has witnessed and the shame he has held on to for so long. The second being his desire to show the “readers” what soldiers felt during war. The “truth” of stories isn’t explained by facts, but in the authenticity of the incidents. I could have happened and probably did.
Something similar may very well have taken place. I can compare this to what people usually do when their stressed. They sometimes write out all their emotions on to paper, releasing their most stressful times so that they won’t have to “carry” the burden of living with it.
When soldiers come home from war, they change not only physically but mentally and emotionally. Society rejects them rather than praise them for their noble cause in fighting to protect them. Even when they are home, they are haunted by nightmares and are constantly looking over their shoulder, afraid someone is going to kill them.
An example of what the effects of war can do to a person is a true story. A few years ago, a young man came home from war and went to sleep for almost an entire day. When his mother went to his room to put on a blanket, he immediately rose and punched her in the face. The feeling that you could die at any moment is a feeling that can’t be understood, even through figurative writing. This is why I believe the stories are written multiple times, to convey that feeling.
The point of O’Brien repeating him self over and over is to express a point, a reason for writing it. But he forgets and returns back to the topic later. When reading the book not only is one able to “see” what the soldiers saw but are also able to understand the authors struggle to let go of his past through his writing. He pours his heart into his writing. Feeling pain. Sorrow. Guilt for his comrades.
By writing it in fiction he is able to “close” the book of his “war days” and start over. Starting a new life with his daughter, with whom he doesn’t want to share the burden he carries, for she is too naïve. In conclusion O’Brien uses imagery, figurative language and repetition to convey his message. He has used imagery to allow the reader envision what he saw.
The sensory detail makes the reader “lose themselves” in the story as if it were real, something that can only be accomplished when being fictionalized. The figurative language expresses emotions. Words can only classify emotions.
However they are unfathomable and can only be expressed through “exaggerations”. To compare one self to the author’s feeling is the only way for the emotion to be understood. The repetition is used to show the struggle of letting go of the past. O’Brien becomes a writer and finds that he can’t let go so easily. He writes stories more than once to find a point in why it haunts him and why he must move on. What O’Brien sees as the purpose of the storytelling, and fictionalizing his experiences in Vietnam, can be seen through the “style” of his writing. It’s more than just a collection of stories. It’s a way for him to let go and start a new beginning.
It is labeled “fiction” to make the story seem more engaging and to bring up the question, “Did this really happen?”