Addressing The Things They Carried & Author Tim O’Brien

Recently I’ve watched an interview with Tim O’Brien, the author of The Things They Carried, and found that many of my questions posed during a class discussion of the book have been answered. One of my most prominent questions was, “Why make a character with the name Tim O’Brien if the author did not want to be associated with it?”

An interviewer brought up this topic and Tim’s response was quite different than the one I received in class. He said, “That was part of me. I suppose my strategy of writing in this book. I wanted to write a work of fiction that would feel to the reader as if this has occurred or is occurring as I read it. So I would use every strategy that I could think of as a way to give readers a sense of witnessed experience.”

I think that, as a writer, is something so important and so key to pulling in a reader and keeping them hooked on the story. The lines between fact and fiction in this book were quite blurred for me, as I read. I saw this book as more of a memoir of Tim’s life, rather than a work of Historical Fiction.

However, I will argue that it belongs as a work of fiction, despite being a great reference piece to the occurrences of the Vietnam War. As Tim said, it is important to distance oneself from their work in order to let their imagination flow, instead of getting caught up on details that may or may not matter to the reader. He wrote this for an older audience, despite later speaking that he wanted a target audience of older teenagers, so I can understand his distance from the story. “Young people need to understand the complications and ambiguities of war.”

“Literature is not Happy Hour time.”

If you’re interested in observing the interview that I did, feel free to find it here, on PBS.org

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2 thoughts on “Addressing The Things They Carried & Author Tim O’Brien

  1. I found these things most interesting in his interview as well. I felt that giving yourself some time to distance yourself from an event to figure out what parts are important is excellent advice to give, yes, I know it wasn’t meant as advice. I also felt lied to by this interview. I was looking for more truth in the novel and to find out that the narrator Tim O’Brien was only a character made it less of an impact.

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