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Free Study Guide-The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien-Free Book Notes
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IMPORTANT / KEY FACTS SUMMARY

Every reader should understand that this book is not an autobiographical look at the life of Tim O’Brien. This is a factional account of a veteran that he named Tim O’Brien. Moreover, none of the stories he tells about his ‘own life’ are true, including the chapter where he almost goes to Canada. He admits as much when he talks about happening-truth and story-truth, and when he discusses the liberties he took with the Norman Bowker story. A reader may feel cheated if he believes that he has read a real-life account of the war, only to discover later that it is fiction. This view of truth and what it can teach us is at the heart of the novel’s message.

Title: The Things They Carried

Author: Tim O'Brien

Date Published: 1990

Meaning of the Title: Referring to the idea that despite all of the gear and weaponry that the soldiers wore and carried, they also carried the weight of duty, God, and country on their backs as a higher burden.

Genre: Novel; Coming of Age story; War Story. NOT an autobiography.

Setting: During the Vietnam War in the late 1960s in Vietnam; and in the late 1980s in Massachusetts.

Protagonist: Tim O'Brien (a fictional character with the same name as the author)

Antagonist: Again, O'Brien; struggling with his own feelings

Mood: Tragic reflection and sadness

Point of View: Shifts back and forth between first and third person

Tense: Mostly Past; with the exception of the passages told by O'Brien in present tense in Vietnam

Conflict: Tim O'Brien and the other soldiers must cope with the harsh experience of war, both past and present

Rising Action: Tim O'Brien is drafted to U.S. Army in 1968. Despite reservations about the war, he commits to his obligation and reports to serve.

Falling Action: Upon his return from Vietnam, Tim must cope with his vivid memories by telling stories of his experience.

Climax: Returning to the field where Kiowa died.

Outcome: The war ended, Tim wonders what might have been different had he not been in the war. He pays homage to his fellow soldiers and the ones who died.

Major Themes: Isolation; Language; Truth; Courage; Redemption

Symbols / Motifs / Imagery - The Lake, The Field, Mary Anne Belle, Linda, The man I killed.

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