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Literary Analysis of a Short Story - the Things They Carried by Tim O’brien

Autor:   •  March 18, 2013  •  Case Study  •  1,412 Words (6 Pages)  •  1,383 Views

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Literary Analysis of A Short Story

In “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien, there are many short stories that function as chapters for the novel as a whole, but are able to stand on their own when read out of order. In the few selected stories I read of this book, it seemed there was a common theme through them, and I’m assuming through the rest of the book as well. There are many themes and literary tools weaved through this book, as it is not a book written without focus. Yet, there seems to be a theme of chaos and confusion as is made clear by the quote “…the stories that last forever are those that swirl back and forth across the border between trivia and bedlam, the mad and the mundane.” (O’Brien 89). I guess that’s the point. There doesn’t seem to be an objective to anything, yet there is. Order through chaos. That is what war stories are all about as Tim O’Brien mentions throughout the earlier parts of the book.

Mary Anne Bell is used as a hyperbole in the short story “Sweetheart of the Song Tra Bong” showing transference of gender roles with her boyfriend Mark Fossie, a shift from innocence to corruption between her and Mark, and how things aren’t always metaphorically black and white. Webster’s definition of a hyperbole is that of exaggerated claims or statements that are not meant to be taken literally. I definitely believe Mary Anne as a character is meant to be a symbol of chaos and unpredictability because of the drastic change she goes through so quickly that it seems surreal.

In being the teller of Mary Anne’s story, Rat “wanted to heat up the truth, to make it burn so hot that you would feel exactly what he felt.” (89) This isn’t necessarily a true story in the sense of the words and actions being verifiable and real, but a true story of exactly how unpredictable things are, in truth or fiction. They sometimes say truth IS stranger than fiction. Is this the case here?

Mary Anne Bell starts out as a “cute blonde - just a kid, just barely out of high school” showing up “with a suitcase and one of those plastic cosmetic bags”. Rat Kiley describes her, incredulously, to Mitchell Sanders and Tim O’Brien: “I swear to God, man, she’s got on culottes. White culottes and this sexy pink sweater. There she is.” (90) She seems to be portrayed as the portrait of innocence being dragged into a world of mayhem “thick with Bouncing Betties and homemade booby traps” (91), a perfect example of order through chaos.

O’Brien goes on to tell how Rat described the medical compound and how in the early ’60’s, “the place had been set up as a Special Forces outpost, and when Rat Kiley arrived nearly a decade later, a squad of six Green Berets still used the compound as a base of operations.” (92) They were mostly confined, presumably by their own will


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