The Things They Carried | Study Guide

Tim O'Brien

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The Things They Carried | Good Form | Summary



The narrator is a 43-year-old writer who was once a soldier in Quang Ngai Province. "Almost everything else," he admits, "is invented." This is the "form" of war stories. For example, the narrator watched a young man die on a trail, and, though he didn't kill him, his presence "was guilt enough." Then he admits "even that story is made up." What is a reader to believe?

However, the point is to create "story-truth." Rather than conveying truth through a factual account, story-truth conveys what the narrator felt, which is ultimately a more accurate way to understand "what happened": "I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth."

Story-truth helps the narrator remember what he was afraid to see as a young soldier. It helps him feel again what he felt so he can honestly answer the question, "Daddy, ... did you ever kill anyone?"


This brief selection further develops the narrator's thoughts about writing war stories. Writing these stories is "not a game" but serious work that helps the narrator remember and helps his readers sympathize with what he and other soldiers experienced in war. The stories may be "made up," but they have "story-truth," a truth stronger and deeper than the facts. One burden the narrator carries is "faceless responsibility" for his actions during war and "faceless grief" for the dead, including the young man he killed on the trail. The stories "make things present" again so the narrator can "attach faces" to what the stories help him feel—"grief and love and pity and God."

While "Good Form" further defines the nature and function of war stories, it leaves intact the ambiguity of what is accurate and what is made up, as well as the narrator's ambivalence about the question of whether he killed anyone.

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