Tim O’ Brien, in his recent fictional story The Things They Carried, illustrates the struggle to unravel and grasp ambiguities of the war in the most unusual way, by understanding it through the mind’s eye. He resolutely transgressed the boundary between fiction and reality and struggles to demonstrate that the illusory dimension can frequently be more real, particularly in the events leading to the Vietnam War, than reality itself.
Communicating the view of ambiguity of an ordinary soldier about what really took place in Vietnam by narrating the imagined domain as though it is the real work, and afterwards challenging these realities once more, can be viewed as a deviation of the poignant and disturbing statements American soldiers use to express their own doubt about what took place in Vietnam. They drew on these expressions to transform the inexpressible and horrifying and ambiguous into reality. Likewise, O’Brien narrates tales and realities that are merely fleetingly definite and factual. In the section ‘Notes’, O’Brien illustrated the process of merging illusion and reality (O’Brien 1990, 152):
By telling stories, you objectify your own experience. You separate it from yourself. You pin down certain truths. You make up others. You start sometimes with an incident that truly happened, like the night in the shit field, and you carry it forward by inventing incidents that did not in fact occur but that nonetheless help to clarify and explain.
In the above passage, O’Brien shows the impossibility of knowing exactly what took place. He urges his readers to become aware of the events in the Vietnam War that they do not know and perhaps will never be aware of.
The Things They Carried brings the readers to the Vietnam War through the author’s webs of narratives. O’Brien informs us that we will never truly know what exactly happened in Vietnam. And the realities of the Vietnam War will die alongside the people who experienced the ‘real’ and ‘unreal’.
O’Brien, T. The Things They Carried. New York: Mariner Books, 1990.