The Things They Carried
How we cite our quotes:
[…] that surreal seemingness, which makes the story seem unreal, but which in fact represents the hard and exact truth as it seemed. (How to Tell a True War Story.18)
Here we get the idea, for the first time in the book, that the truth of something might not be what actually happened to you, but what you felt like happened. We do this all the time when we tell stories – your backpack doesn't actually weigh a ton (we hope), but it sure feels like it, so that's what you say. You might remember the way something happened differently than the way it actually did, but if your memory is what's dictated your actions and beliefs following that event, then your memory – that "surreal seemingness" – is what's true for you.
You can tell a true war story by the questions you ask… That's a true story that never happened. (How to Tell a True War Story.93-8)
The first story that Tim tells follows a nice, tight narrative structure: exposition, conflict, heroic exploit, resolution. It's practically a Hollywood movie. Consequently, we want that story to have happened. That's why, deep down, we know that it can't be true, even if it did really happen. The second story might start out following a narrative structure, but quickly turns into a mumblecore independent film, possibly starring John Malkovich but more likely starring no one famous at all: exposition, conflict, heroic exploit, the heroic exploit proves to futile, and then the dead people joke around with each other, except then they can't, because they're dead. Something about this story catches at us on a gut level. It feels true, even if it didn't really happen.
"Among the men in the Alpha Company… multiplying by maybe." (Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong)
Rat is all about hyperbole. Lying, for him, isn't about lying. He's not being malicious, or trying to trick you. He's just improving the truth. He's trying to help you feel exactly what he felt. O'Brien does the same thing throughout the book, although O'Brien is less about hyperbole and more about changing the ways things happened, for better or worse.