Wildly Out Of Wing

What exactly is The Things They Carried?

As I’m sure many of us were, I was convinced that the book was fiction until Tim started writing about Tim. When combined with the facts that O’Brien served in Vietnam and that at least one of the characters was one person’s dad, the character Tim seems to be the author Tim (real author Tim, since character Tim is also an author). And that makes you think that this book is autobiographical. But then Lindner says that O’Brien doesn’t have a daughter.

You knew this was coming.

O’Brien frequently talks about the nature of the human experience in interviews such as this one. And I think he’s right. In the midst of the things that happen, humans are always trapped in their own minds, which are thinking random things and subject to perceiving things a different way. This is why Rat embellishes his stories; to him, the true reality is not what actually occurs, but what the situation felt like. So if sleeping with one and a half girls feels like sleeping with four, he’s going to say it was four because he feels like it’s a more accurate portrayal of what actually happened.

Despite O’Brien’s claim that the stories are, for the most part, invented, I think that most of the stories in The Things They Carried are based on Tim O’Brien’s experience. Maybe some parts are nicely embellished, but a little beading on the dress doesn’t take away from the fabric. But does the existence of truth in the book make it nonfiction?

Maybe there should be some category between fiction and nonfiction because I don’t think everything fits into these categories. Human perception of the truth is too strange for two categories. But if we’re going to classify the book, I’ll go with this: the book is autobiographical fiction. Too much of this book corresponds with O’Brien’s life to be ignored, but the story has also been beautified- it has too many added symbols and characterizations and metaphors to be considered nonfiction. And since, at its root, fiction is the world as we understand it changed to a certain degree, The Things They Carried is still fiction, however much truth it may have.

It surprised me that O’Brien said that literature is not ordinarily “happy hour time,” but upon further reflection (using O’Brien’s logic), that makes sense. You might have to take that sign off your bookshelf, Lindner.


3 thoughts on “Wildly Out Of Wing

  1. I must agree with you that there needs to be a specific category for this book. It falls right in between fiction and nonfiction. Personally, I would have to choose this book to be nonfiction, for the simple reason that Tim O’brien’s experiences must be real. Since his experiences are real, the stories he writes around these experiences must be real as well. I feel that it also needs to be mentioned that books that fall into this middle category are always interesting. In fact, I think that authors must consider writing in this category more often.


    • Many fictional stories are based on true events and experiences- Little House on the Prairie, Little Women, Winnie-the-Pooh.

      Winnie-the-Pooh? Yes, Winnie-the-Pooh. In the books, the father and author, A.A. Milne, tells his son Christopher Robin a story about his bear. Milne really did tell his son, Christopher Robin, a story about his bear. Some may argue that since the story he told is fictional, the book is fiction. However, if I wrote a book about the lies that I was led to believe in horrific event X, then the book would probably be labeled as a memoir and be shelved in nonfiction.

      What even is a memoir anyway? When happening truth reacts with story truth, there’s really no telling how accurate the account is. But by “nonfiction” do we mean “what the person felt happened” or “what the event would have looked like to the outside viewer?”


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