Home > Free Essays > Literature > American Literature > “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien

“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien Essay

Exclusively available on IvyPanda Available only on IvyPanda
Updated: Jul 21st, 2020


The main theme of “The Things They Carried” by O’Brien is the events that were happening during the Vietnam War. The war does not revolve around things such as heroism or tactics. It is characterized by boredom and terrific moments. Apart from that, it is a backdrop that defines the force against the lives of the soldiers.

O’Brien emphasizes the fact that it is not easy to generalize what is entailed in war. The short story addresses different themes, but war is among its central topics. Tim O’Brien is among the characters that play essential roles in the story. There is a close connection between OBrien and the theme of war. This essay will discuss the relationship between O’Brien as a character and the war as the central theme of “The Things They Carried.”

War as the Central Theme of “The Things They Carried”

O’Brien focuses on telling war stories. TTTC is a work of fiction. Throughout the story, there is an interplay between fact and fiction.

O’Brien tells the story authoritatively because he was there during the actual war. That is the connection between O’Brien’s biography and the story’s central theme that was mentioned in the above paragraph of the essay. The examples of it in “The Things They Carried” are numerous. Regarding the Vietnam War, no one can tell the story better than a person like O’Brien, who witnessed the action. Assuming a position of authority, O’Brien goes ahead to define the parameters characteristic of a true war story.

He says that a true war story lacks morals. It never instructs nor encourages virtue and does not even suggest models of the right human behavior nor restrain men from doing the things they always do.

T.O’Brien does not agree with the thesis that war stories are vehicles for restitution or change. He represents war as hell, mystery, terror, and discovery.

He adds that it is a nasty and thrilling experience that makes people men and also leaves them dead. He says that the irreconcilable opposites need to be together because their oxymoronic togetherness articulates the reality of war. He writes that the recollection of the death of Curt Lemon is possible when the ‘surreal seemingness, which makes the story seem untrue, but which represents the hard and exact truth is seemed’ (O’Brien 78).

The above quote shows that O’Brien deals with the challenge of representation, the weakness of language to convey meaning, flavor, boredom, and the feelings of war. Inscription and re-inscription are the only ways through which he hopes to pass the message on the truth of war appropriately. That is what makes the theme of war in the story a circular and repetitive idea.

For every assertion of truth, it is essential to qualify and represent it for it to be considered authentic. O’Brien creates a situation that conveys the message that no heroism or morality is derived from the experiences of war. It is the source of guilt and shame only. O’Brien presents war as a disembodied presence with a life of its own, where deadly equipment like napalm and white phosphorus undergo a magical transformation into morally acceptable objects of beauty.

He portrays astuteness to the extent that he acknowledges the fact that describing such destruction as beautiful is in itself ugly truth. However, the justification for the truth bases on the role the truth plays.

Ugly truths like the fascination that war begets are bound to be expressed, although in expressing such truths, war is anesthetized and domesticated. The absolute moral indifference that O’Brien relates to bombing raids and artillery barrages is only defendable if the attacks or bombardments have no human agencies behind them (O’Brien 80).

The fact that there are always human agencies behind war and the eloquent portrayal by O’Brien that war maims and kills makes it challenging to uphold an opinion of the moral or aesthetic perspective of war. The unleashing of such negative impacts of war trivializes any morality in war. In presenting an alternative moral view, O’Brien perpetrates a mythic fascination with the horrific occurrences associated with war.

O’Brien says that although war is hell, it is comprised of many other contradictions. A firefight is followed by a mysterious experience of surviving the ordeal.

He says that war is ambiguous and concurs with a story told by Sanders of men who heard things in the forest during the war. He, therefore, concludes by saying that a true war story does not tell the absolute truth. He recalls the circumstances that led to the death of Lemon as he smiled and talked but was killed within a second.

His body was thrown into a tree, and they were instructed to retrieve it with Jensen. O’Brien says that true war stories are identifiable by the questions that follow the war. He retells the story of a man who has nearly killed a grenade as he tried to protect his friends. His message is that war stories that seem true never actually happened.


This essay analyzes Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”. It is a compelling short story of the Vietnam War. In summary, war is its central theme, as shown in numerous researches. This paper on “The Things They Carried” aims to connect O’Brien’s biography with the main issue of the plot.

In the story, different characters are used to express various themes, such as emotional and physical burdens, among others. However, the issue of war runs throughout the story. O Brien is himself one of the characters in the story and tells the story of the war as a person who witnessed it. He is closely connected with the theme of war in the story, such that without him, the issue cannot be brought out so clearly.

Works Cited

O’Brien, Tim. . New York: Broadway Books, 1998. Print

This essay on “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien was written and submitted by your fellow student. You are free to use it for research and reference purposes in order to write your own paper; however, you must cite it accordingly.
Removal Request
If you are the copyright owner of this paper and no longer wish to have your work published on IvyPanda.
Request the removal

Need a custom Essay sample written from scratch by
professional specifically for you?

801 certified writers online

Cite This paper
Select a referencing style:


IvyPanda. (2020, July 21). “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-things-they-carried-by-tim-obrien/


IvyPanda. (2020, July 21). “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-things-they-carried-by-tim-obrien/

Work Cited

"“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien." IvyPanda, 21 July 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/the-things-they-carried-by-tim-obrien/.

1. IvyPanda. "“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien." July 21, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-things-they-carried-by-tim-obrien/.


IvyPanda. "“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien." July 21, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-things-they-carried-by-tim-obrien/.


IvyPanda. 2020. "“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien." July 21, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-things-they-carried-by-tim-obrien/.


IvyPanda. (2020) '“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien'. 21 July.

Powered by CiteTotal, free citation style generator
More related papers