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.
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.