The Things They Carried
by Tim O'Brien
The Things They Carried Literature and Writing Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Story Title.Paragraph)
"The sound. You need to get a consistent sound, like slow or fast, funny or sad. All these digressions, they just screw up your story's sound. Stick to what happened." (Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong.114)
Mitchell Sanders is accusing Rat Kiley of making too many digressions, and of course that's a sin that Tim O'Brien is completely guilty of. Not only does the book as a whole not flow as a story, but Tim is constantly jumping into the middle of stories, jerking the tone around, and showing us that war is the antithesis of consistency. Nonetheless, the point is made—literary technique matters to O'Brien, and he's telling us here that it's something we should notice too.
I did not look on my work as therapy, and still don't. Yet when I received Norman Bowker's letter, it occurred to me that the act of writing had led me through a swirl of memories that might otherwise have ended in paralysis or worse. (Notes.11)
O'Brien's aversion to therapy here is kind of interesting. If writing helped him process his memories in a certain way, doesn't that count as therapy? Not the sit-on-a-comfy-couch, talk-about-your-feelings kind of therapy, but therapy nonetheless? Regardless, the ability to communicate his war experiences through stories has helped O'Brien avoid PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) and other homecoming issues that his comrades are still going through.
To provide a dramatic frame, I collapsed events into a single time and place, a car circling a lake on a quiet afternoon in midsummer, using the lake as a nucleus around which the story would orbit. As he'd requested, I did not use Norman Bowker's name, instead substituting the name of my novel's main character, Paul Berlin. For the scenery I borrowed heavily from my own hometown. Wholesale thievery, in fact. […] Almost immediately, though, there was a sense of failure. The details of Norman Bowker's story were missing. In this original version, which I still conceived as part of the novel, I had been forced to omit the shit field and the rain and the death of Kiowa, replacing material with events that better fit the book's narrative. As a consequence I'd lost the natural counterpoint between the lake and the field. A metaphoric unity was broken. (Notes.12-14)
Here we learn that while humor, violence, swearing, and everything makes O'Brien a lot more fun to read than, say, Hawthorne, he's nonetheless a Writer with a capital W. He uses terms like "dramatic frames" and "metaphoric unity" when he describes how he writes his story-truths. And this, dear readers, means that he's got to be using symbolism up the wazoo. Stop on by "Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory" to see how.