The%20Things%20They%20Carried - T IM O 'BRIEN T im O'Brien...

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TIM O'BRIEN Tim O'Brien (b. 1946) was born in Austin, Minnesota, and educated at Macalester College and Harvard University. Drafted into the army during the Vietnam War, he attained the rank of sergeant and received the Purple Heart. O'Brien's first book, If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home (1973), is an account of his combat experience presented as "auto- fiction," a mixture of autobiography and fiction. His next book, Northern Lights (1974), depicts aconflict between two brothers. O'Brien's novel Going after Cacciato (1978) won the National Book Award and was judged by many critics to be the best book by an American about the Vietnam War. This was fol- lowed by the novels The Nuclear Age (1985), In the Lake of the Woods (1994), and Tomcat in Love (1998). 1/ Soldiers are dreamers," a line by the English poet Siegfried Sassoon, who survived a sniper's bullet during World War I, is the epigraph for Going after Cacciato. Dreams play an important role in all of O'Brien's fiction, yet the note they sound in a story such as "The Things They Carried" is not surrealis- tic. The dream is always rooted so firmly in reality that it survives, paradoxi- cally, as the most vital element in an O'Brien story. "The Things They Carried" first appeared in Esquire magazine in 1986 and was included in The Best American Short Stories when Ann Beattie edited the volume in 1987. It is also the title story in O'Brien's collection The Things They Carried (1990). RELATED COMMENTARY. Bobbie Ann Mason, "On Tim O'Brien's 'The Things They Carried, '" page 1397. The Things They Carried First Lieutenant Jimmy Cross carried letters from a girl named Martha, a junior at Mount Sebastian College in New Jersey. They were not love let- ters, but Lieutenant Cross was hoping, so he kept them folded in plastic at the bottom of his rucksack. In the late afternoon, after a day's march, he would dig his foxhole, wash his hands under a canteen, unwrap the letters, hold them with the tips of his fingers, and spend the last hour of light pre- tending. He would imagine romantic camping trips into the White Moun- tains in New Hampshire. He would sometimes taste the envelope flaps, knowing her tongue had been there. More than anything, he wanted Martha to love him as he loved her, but the letters were mostly chatty, elu- sive on the matter of love. She was a virgin, he was almost sure. She was an English major at Mount Sebastian, and she wrote beautifully about her pro- fessors and roommates and midterm exams, about her respect for Chaucer
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O'BRIEN/The Things They Carried 1163 and her great affection for Virginia Woolf. She often quoted lines of poetry; she never mentioned the war, except to say, Jimmy, take care of yourself. The letters weighed ten ounces. They were signed "Love, Martha," but Lieu- tenant Cross understood that "Love" was only a way of signing and did not mean what he sometimes pretended it meant. At dusk, he would carefully return the letters to his rucksack. Slowly, a bit distracted, he would get up and
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The%20Things%20They%20Carried - T IM O 'BRIEN T im O'Brien...

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