THINGS THEY CARRIED - THINGS THEY CARRIED Fact or...

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THINGS THEY CARRIED Fact or Fiction—The art of storytelling. Subtitled "A Work of Fiction," O'Brien immediately and deliberately blurs the line between fact and fiction by dedicating the novel to individuals that the reader soon discovers are the novel's fictional characters. To further complicate the genre blending and blurring between fiction and reality, O'Brien creates a protagonist, a Vietnam veteran, named "Tim O'Brien." The creation of this fictional persona allows O'Brien to explore his real emotions as though they were fictional creations, and simultaneously challenges us when we dismiss a story as fiction when it could just as easily be true. The originality and innovation of O'Brien's invented form are what make the novel particularly compelling because its main theme — more so than even the Vietnam War — is the act of storytelling. Storytelling becomes an expression of memory and a catharsis of the past. Readers should note the designations used in this study guide to distinguish between the author, Tim O'Brien, and the fictionalized character, "Tim O'Brien," who is the main character of the novel. While O'Brien and "O'Brien" share a number of similarities, readers should remember that the work is a novel and not an autobiography of the writer who wrote it. Instead, the novel is presented as the autobiography of the fictional character. The medium becomes part of the novel's message; the unreliable protagonist "Tim O'Brien" continually questions the veracity of the stories he tells and the hearsay he retells, leaving the readers with more questions than answers. For example, at one point we believe O'Brien, such as when he describes his fear and shock after killing a Vietnamese soldier, but he then challenges us by casting doubt on the soldier's life and existence. The act of storytelling becomes more important than the stories told. This quality is a characteristic of many fiction and non-fiction works that comprise the Vietnam War literature genre. He sets out deliberately to manipulate the audience as they read his work, an act intended to provoke his audience into forming an opinion not about the Vietnam War, but about storytelling (or more precisely, story hearing). For example, O'Brien sets his reader up for a confirmation as he sketches out "Speaking of Courage," a seemingly traditional narrative about a soldier's difficulty readjusting to civilian life. O'Brien uses a narrative style called free indirect discourse, where the narrator supplies necessary information about Norman Bowker, and readers have no reason to doubt this information. But, in the next chapter, "Notes," O'Brien invites his readers into his writing studio, so to speak, by describing how the story of Norman Bowker came to be written. In doing so, "O'Brien" explains that some of the information he provided in "Speaking of Courage" was true and some was invented. By pointing out this inconsistency of factual truth, "O'Brien"/O'Brien challenges readers to make judgments about how much they value storytelling and why they value it. For example, do readers need a story to
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