“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien Essay

May 18, 2022 by Essay Writer

O’Brien created one of the best novels about the Vietnam War. He was able to delight readers with his writing skills and his ability to draw from his experience. He was not an ordinary commentator. He was one of the soldiers sent into the fray, but due to his sense of duty, he managed to earn a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star during his stint in the said Vietnam War. He infused truth and authenticity in his work. However, no one will hire him to develop a movie or video game, because he will insist that film producers and video game creators should adhere to the same standard.

The Author’s Skill and Appeal to Readers

One of the best explanations of the impact and significance of O’Brien’s The Things They Carried was penned by a fellow writer who interviewed him in 1979. He said that O’Brien’s writing was a “high wire act synthesizing descriptive prose and dreamlike, surreal flights of fancy, images arising from the author’s fragmented recollection of Vietnam and the schizophrenic chaos of the battlefield, simultaneously raucous and impossibly isolated” (Smith 9). O’Brien had the ability to describe the Vietnam War in a different light.

O’Brien’s skill enabled him to draw his readers into a new world. The Vietnam War is a well examined subject matter. Nevertheless, O’Brien’s masterful treatment of the topic made readers appreciate the soldier’s point of view when it comes to the challenges they faced in the battlefield. O’Brien made his work accessible through astute storytelling. Most writers focus on the political or historical implications of the conflict. Others chose to discuss the blood and gore of the infamous war. O’Brien chose to talk about human emotions. Moreover, O’Brien did not take his readers for granted, and he wrote something for their mind and soul.

One of the most entertaining styles of writing is demonstrated in the author’s ability to blend the different elements of prose and poetry. Consider the following lines from the book “Lieutenant Cross gazed at the tunnel. But he was not there. He was buried with Martha under the white sand at the Jersey shore. They were pressed together, and the pebble in his mouth was her tongue” (O’Brien 11). Skill played a major part in his ability to write profound stories. However, it must be made clear that his experience in Vietnam gave him the material to write in a unique way. A soldier named McCaffery revealed that O’Brien spent one year in Vietnam, and in that short period of time, the author was awarded a Purple Heart when he took shrapnel from a grenade, and he also earned a Bronze Star after rescuing a pinned down soldier in a firefight (Smith 8).

O’Brien’s Opinion

O’Brien’s response to the task of creating a movie, video game, or work of literature depicting the Vietnam War is to develop the project along the lines of integrity and authenticity. In the case of creating a movie or TV show, the author will insist on authenticity in different levels of the media production. O’Brien remembered the details of the war. He did not describe the conflict using broad strokes and generalizations. He remembered minute details, even the exact weight of the items they carried. More importantly, he remembered what he was thinking and what his fellow soldiers felt when they marched through the malaria-infested valleys and booby-trapped rice fields.

He will insist on authenticity, and in the case of video games, he will design it with realism in mind. In OBrien’s video game, soldiers will drop like a log when a bullet hits them. The storylines and the dialogue will mimic the conversations soldiers had in his book. They will joke about their ordeal, but when pinned down under heavy enemy fire, they will cry out to God and their mothers. In other words, no one will probably finance a video game designed by O’Brien.

Truth versus Authentic

There is a certain value attached to a work of art or a commercial product if it carries the label of authenticity. Hollywood producers are mindful of this label. The same thing can be said of video game creators and novelists. However, authenticity carries a heavy price tag. It is not practical to shoot a movie wherein the main character wanders aimlessly through jungle trails without uttering a single word. In a real war, soldiers creep in silently under bushes and barbed wire. However, this is not a good idea. Works of art and commercial products, like films and video games require a return on investment.


O’Brien’s literary work was a major achievement in terms of popularity and quality of output. A significant contributor to his success was his ability to authenticate his work through the use of terms accessible only to real soldiers with real combat experience. Nevertheless, the standard he used to develop an authentic retelling of the Vietnam War is not a practical strategy to emulate in the context of Hollywood films and best-selling video games. Works of fiction, films, and video games require theatrics, cinematic effects, and plenty of exaggeration to increase its market value. Thus, no one from Hollywood or the video game industry will find it prudent to hire O’Brien if he will insist on being authentic on all levels of the production process.

Works Cited

O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Houghton Mifflin Publishing, 1990. Print.

Smith, Patrick. Conversations with Tim O’Brien. MI: The University Press of Mississippi, 2013. Print.

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