Literature Studies: “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien

Pages: 4
Words: 841


The book entitled The Things They Carried is a collection of many short stories, which revolve around American soldiers and their experiences during the Vietnam War. The author of the related short stories in The Things They Carried is Tim O’Brien, an American novelist.

Some of the interrelated short stories contained in The Things They Carried include ‘love’, ‘on the rainy river’, ‘spin’, ‘how to tell a true war story’, ‘enemies and friends’, ‘the lives of the dead’, and ‘the ghost soldiers’ (O’Brien 2).

Through the narrative, O’Brien gives personal experiences regarding the war that took place between the American soldiers and the Vietnamese. Thus, this essay examines ethical choices and dilemmas that O’Brien expresses in his book, The Things They Carried

Tim O’Brien

Tim O’Brien is an eminent American novelist who was born on October 1, 1946, in the state of Austin Minnesota. At the age of 12, the family of O’Brien moved to the state of Worthington, where O’Brien drew a lot of influence concerning his writing career. Worthington’s influence on the writing career of O’Brien is evident in the book, as it incorporates some of the parts of the Worthington state in the settings of the narrative (Collela 87).

O’Brien became the president of the Macalester College, where he undertook his first degree in political science. After acquiring his first degree, the state incorporated O’Brien into the United States Army and sent him to Vietnam from 1969-1970. O’Brien got the inspiration to write the book from personal experiences in the Vietnam War.

Analysis of O’Brien’s Character

In the book, Tim O’Brien is among the main characters and uses the platform to present his personal experiences of the war, as well as the experiences of his colleagues during the war. In the book, O’ Brien explains that during the war, many soldiers died, some sustained injuries, while others suffered from mental and emotional trauma.

According to Bloom, O’Brien explains his personal experiences and that of his colleagues, as he highlights some instances where he was injured and had to undergo treatment in the combat zone (86). Outstandingly, the book presents O’ Brien as a charismatic, humorous, and courageous man, but he appears vengeful in times of adversity.

In the Vietnam War, O’Brien killed a man when he suspected that the man was posing a danger to his life. In this view, O’Brien demonstrates the dilemmas that soldiers go through during the war as they wonder whether to save lives or fight their enemies.

Through his position as the lead character, O’Brien tries to explain the practicability of some ethical dilemmas that soldiers encounter during the war. Since O’Brien is among the lead characters and was in the force, he presents the firsthand experience of war. Therefore, this implies that even within the fictional perceptive, O’Brien accounts for the events that took place during the war from personal experiences.

Collela notes that O’Brien gives an account of the many challenges and dilemmas he encountered during the force and even after the force (69). Essentially, O’Brien highlights the traumatic experiences that his friends are enduring after service.

Ethical Dilemma

Throughout the book, O’Brien demonstrates ethical dilemmas that soldiers go through during the war. According to O’ Brien, killing in the field during the war was common, as he highlights scenarios in the combat where the American soldiers took away the lives of their enemies (45). Although it is ethically wrong to kill, circumstances surrounding combat zones compel soldiers to be heartless and immoral (Bleakney 25).

Additionally, O’Brien uses the stories to explain the presence of mistakes that transpired and resulted in dire consequences like deaths. O’Brien confesses to having participated in many killings, which have continued to traumatize him.

Tim O’Brien uses the book to display how soldiers go through traumatic experiences, which renders them vulnerable to loss of virtues, moral values, and the meaning of life. After the war, soldiers grapple with the traumatic experiences that haunt them. In the short stories like ‘notes,’ O’Brien highlights two soldiers who committed suicide after losing the meaning of life.

In the short story of the ‘notes,’ Norman Bowker hanged himself after the war when he realized that his girlfriend was married and his friend had died. According to Vernon, many soldiers go through many experiences and dilemmas during the war (205). These experiences and dilemmas traumatize veterans in the military and affect their lives even after they have retired.


Tim O’Brien is an American novelist who wrote many stories concerning the war between the Vietnamese and American soldiers. Among his books is The Things They Carried, which is a collection of many short stories of the war between American soldiers and Vietnamese in Vietnam.

In the book, O’Brien brings to the fore many experiences and ethical dilemmas that soldiers encountered during and after the war. The book gives personal experiences of O’Brien during his time in the United States army and paints a clear picture of the challenges that individuals experience when they undergo through traumatic events of the war.