The Use of Metafiction in The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien
The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien is a postmodern collection of short stories. The stories are written in a way of continuous cycle. The Things They Carried is a Postmodern novel that uses a style known as Metafiction. The novel’s lead character is a writer named Tim O’Brien and the story revolves around his experiences during the Vietnam War as well as others in his company. Some of the stories that are told are about the amount of weight put on soldiers by the equipment they carry, and some stories refer to the mental weight put on them like, Tim’s attempt to flee to Canada to avoid going to Vietnam, Lieutenant Jimmy Cross’s obsession with a woman named Martha, and Kiowa, the Native American soldier, dying in the rice paddy.
This novel is postmodern because, although the novel is not real, but the line between reality and fiction is blurred through its use of metafiction. As a result, the book talks to the reader and describes how stories can exaggerate the truth. Tim can change his “stories” and make whatever version of reality he wants to and either claim would be true. These instances add to the overall appeal of the novel and the modern writing. The novel repeatedly tells how certain things shown to the reader were untrue (the killing of the baby elephant and the death of Kiowa). Tim states that in stories he “can look at things he never looked at. He can attach faces to grief and love and pity and God. He can be brave” (O’Brien). Throughout the novel there is a lot of questions of what is fictional and what is “real.” Post-modern writing allows for variation in narrative styles, syntax, and other stylistic devices while also, in the case of The Things They Carried, making the reader think about what is a “story” and what is “real.”
One story, How to Tell a True War Story, questions what makes a story true or believable. In the story, O’Brien constantly states things like, “This is true,” (Tim) “It’s all exactly true,” (Tim)which makes me think whether the story is true or not. This is because the stories he tells are simply play-by-play events, which to me are believable, however O’Brien says a true story is never moral, but a true story is also not believable. In my opinion the stories which simply describe the scene are true and seem to be easier to believe than the ones with morals, simply because a story with morals seems too good to be true. Not every true story has to have a lesson behind it. Instead, it could just be a description of an event.
The story shows that truths are relative. “All the characters think their stories are more truthful than each other’s.” (Nicks) In the story, O’Brien says something like the definition of truthiness when he refers to a true story. “It comes down to a gut instinct. A true war story, if truly told, makes the stomach believe.” (O’Brien) By mixing fact and fiction, Tim O’Brien creates a realistic and believable character. “Tim O’Brien’s” (writer) experiences that he goes through could be experiences Tim O’Brien(character) went through. Since the stories and characters in the novel could be authentic, the stories and “Tim O’Brien” are more conceivable. Confusing fact and fiction makes “Tim O’Brien” more realistic and brings feelings of the Vietnam War to life. In each chapter characters in The Things They Carried tell their own stories about the Vietnam War. Some of the stories you could see are possibly a true story, but some of the stories told are easily found as a total lie. Yet each story creates different feelings about the Vietnam War, characters do this by using metafiction in their stories. Characters create each feeling by telling these overly exaggerated stories. One character that always over dramatizes his stories is Rat Kiley. “Tim O’Brien” even comments on it, “facts were formed by sensation, not the other way around, and when you listened to one of his stories, you’d find yourself performing rapid calculations in your head, subtracting superlatives, figuring the square root of an absolute then multiplying by maybe” (O’Brien).Also, Mitchell Sanders says some of his story is fiction, “‘Last night, man, I had to make up a few things. . . The glee club. There wasn’t any glee club. . . No opera,… But, it’s still true'” (O’Brien). The characters in The Things They Carried use metafiction for the same reason Tim O’Brien does, it creates realistic feelings and sensations about what truly happened. Rat Kiley can get his message and the truth across while telling lies because he creates the sensation of what happened. This is the same with Mitchell Sanders, the story is exaggerated but the feelings are true. Characters in The Things They Carried use metafiction to get the truth about what happened during the Vietnam War. In the chapter “Good Form,” Tim O’Brien explains the difference between the “story truth” and the “happening truth,” (O’Brien) The “happening truth” is a historically accurate summary and told without feeling, while the “story truth” is told with details and is a dramatization.
Tim O’Brien uses the “story truth” to make Vietnam real. Tim O’Brien expresses sensations through the “story truth” since they cannot be expressed in the “happening truth.” The reader experiences the emotions of what “Tim O’Brien” and Tim O’Brien went through while reading the “story truth,”. This ultimately makes the story believable and realistic. Throughout the novel, stories are questioned or unbelievable. Tim O’Brien plays with the relationship between fiction and fact to present the emotions of the Vietnam War. Tim O’Brien uses fiction to write history. Many novels fail to inspire real emotion; however, Tim O’Brien succeeds in The Things They Carried by using metafiction. This example of metafiction shows that sometimes the truth cannot be told by facts, it must be demonstrated through a series of exaggerations to get the real sensation of the story
Calloway, Catherine. “How to Tell a True War Story: Metafiction in the Things They Carried.” Contemporary Literary Criticism, edited by Jeffrey W. Hunter, vol. 211, Gale, 2006. Literature Criticism Online, http://link.galegroup.com.aclibproxy.idm.oclc.org/apps/doc/HCTSOS012039665/LCO?u=txshracd2904;sid=LCO;xid=66380980. Accessed 22 Apr. 2018. Originally published in Critique, vol. 36, no. 4, Summer 1995, pp. 249-257.
O’Brien, Tim. “The Things They Carried.” LitFinder Contemporary Collection, Gale, 2018. LitFinder, http://link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/LTF3000510561WK/LITF?u=txshracd2904&sid=LITF&xid=135b7a82.