Tim O’Brien uses a variety of stories to explain the life experiences that he and many of his fellow soldiers endured during a single year in Vietnam. He tells these stories in a way that we can connect to these experiences. We never spent time in Vietnam, but O’Brien wants us to feel like we were there. O’Brien uses what he calls “story-truth” to write these stories. The outcome or the people may be different but the feeling is real; that’s the truth in the story, the feeling. He wants us to feel what he felt, see what he saw.
He doesn’t just tell us what was happening exactly; he tells a sectional story that conveys the same emotion. He plays with the truth, that’s the reason why this book is a work of fiction. The stories may not be real but they are based on what the soldiers were feeling during that year in Vietnam. This playing around with the truth is what makes the soldiers skeptical of what is true and what isn’t. They see things differently as they are happening. They know what is happening at that point in time but their mind sees it in a different lighting.
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O’Brien tells a story about a fellow soldier killed by a land mine. His name was Curt Lemon. He and another soldier were playing catch tit a smoke grenade and Lemon takes a half step too far and steps on the land mine. However, that’s not how O’Brien sees it. He sees Lemon step out from the dark tree canopy and into the sunlight. The sunlight seems to carry him up into the tree and he disappears. O’Brien calls it beautiful. There’s nothing beautiful about a man being killed but that’s how he saw it. That’s how his mind saw it. During the war a soldier can get so used to death and killing.
Maybe by just seeing it happen so often that they start to critique it and see the beauty in it. This is what the soldiers see then in that moment but hen they go back and retrieve that memory they don’t know what is true and what isn’t true. The war has affected their mind and the way they perceived these experiences. Fact and fiction have combined and the story about what happened may not be true but the feeling that it conveys is. O’Brien has an odd definition of courage. He sees himself as being courageous by fleeing to Canada and ignoring his draft notice.
He didn’t believe in the war, he was ‘too good for the war; too smart, too compassionate’. By not supporting a war that he seemed to be useless and running away from his fate he believes that that is courage. However, in his story about the decision he made on the Rainy River he calls himself a coward. The boat was twenty yards away from a possible life of freedom from the war, twenty yards away from being a courageous hero. Tim griped the boat and tried to jump out but he couldn’t move; a ‘paralysis of the heart’ prevented him from swimming to Canada.
He had a sort of hallucination and a crowd Of people appeared, just to watch him. They yelled at him and called him vulgar names just because he was choosing to not participate in the war. He couldn’t take the embarrassment anymore. He decided at that moment to o to war. He called himself a coward for going to war. Agree with him in a way, though. It was due to the fact that he knew then, on that river, that he wasn’t able to run from his fate. He was never going to be the hero that he wanted. He never had the courage to break away. He was a coward.
Going along with the courage theme, don’t believe O’Brien thinks of himself as brave either. He knows that being willing to go to war and die so that he will not be embarrassed does not make him brave. He wants to be truly brave and stand up for what he believes in. He truly believes that going o war in Vietnam is wrong. He wants to run away and not join the war because he believes that to be the right thing to do. Fear and shame hold him back, however. He fears embarrassment. He does not want to be called a coward, so he goes to war.
Even as he’s writing this book, he sees this as pathetic cowardice. He isn’t brave at all. Also, the only act of killing O’Brien has experienced, supposedly, was ‘t even out of bravery. He didn’t “kill” the man because he was in danger; he did it because he was scared. He was a coward. He tells us in the chapter “Ambush” that he ‘was in no real peril’ and the young man would’ve passed him by’. He knew that he wasn’t in danger but he “killed” the man anyway because that’s what you were supposed to do in war; you were supposed to kill. He wasn’t being brave; he was giving into the idea of war.
He was doing something that he didn’t believe in. The Vietnam War had a life changing effect on the soldiers, including O’Brien. They came into the war as boys as young as seventeen and left either in body bags made of their own poncho or they came out alive. But were they ever really alive? No, they had their innocence ripped out. They weren’t young soy anymore. Their young selves were killed out in that jungle and all that was left was a carcass of gruesome memories of the tragedy of war, the deaths of their fellow soldiers. They changed as people.
O Brine came into the war as a young man against war. A young soul believing that the Vietnam War was wrong and there was no need for fighting or killing. However, toward the end of the book he tells us the story of how he got revenge on a fellow soldier. This soldier, while in the middle of war, took too long in treating O’Brien for a bullet wound and also should have treated him for shock. O’Brien almost dies on the field but fortunately comes back to consciousness. So, for the trouble that the soldier, Bobby Jorgensen, had put O’Brien though, he was going to get his revenge.
O’Brien and another soldier, Czar, devised a plan to scare Jorgensen to death. The plan was a success but O’Brien didn’t get the satisfaction that he wanted. He realized while the plan was in full swing that he had changed as a person. He became some strange man who loved violence. He became a man who didn’t know the meaning of the words ‘wrong’ or ‘cruel’. He even compared himself to the horror of Vietnam. He was the war now, he was a changed man, and not for the better. O’Brien tells a story that was once told to him by a fellow soldier named Bob “Rat” Killed.
The story is about a young girl named, Mary Anne Bell. She came over to Vietnam from the states to live with her sweetheart, Mark Fossil. She came to Vietnam as a young girl fresh out of high school. However, she doesn’t stay that way. She starts learning the ropes of being a soldier, dressing like a soldier, acting like a soldier. She gets curious one day and decides to join the Green Berets on one of their night missions. She is gone or the whole night and Fossil is worried sick. He is losing his innocent little high school girl to Vietnam.
Weeks later, Fossil is sitting out in front of the Green Beret’s sleeping quarters listening to the sound of Mary Ann.’s singing voice. He can’t take not seeing his sweetheart much longer. He slips through the entrance and falls to his knees when he sees Mary Anne. She is no longer the young high school girl he knew and loved. She is a soldier now and she is wearing a necklace made of the tongues of Vietnamese people. She has changed completely. Vietnam has taken her over. The odd thing is Mary Anne is just a story. A story about what Vietnam does to you. Mary Anne is every young man that is forced into the draft.
They all come to war as practically children and they are picked up and thrown around by the war. Their innocence is taken from them. They are changed completely. The war would drive the soldiers insane, too. Rat Killed was one of them. The platoon was ordered to only go on missions at night. This didn’t go well for most men, especially Rat Killed. The ‘Night Life’ as the soldiers called it, drove Killed nuts. He stopped sleeping during the daytime hours, he couldn’t. He started thinking about the dead bodies all the time. He even began to start thinking about what alive and well soldiers would look like dead.
He thought about the weight of the organs of the human body. The strangest thing about him, though, he wasn’t bothered by these thoughts. They didn’t scare him. However, during the ‘Night Life’ he would see these images and nothing else. He even started to picture himself. He drove himself insane and shortly after he shot himself in the foot and was carried Off in a helicopter, away from the very place that made him crazy. Through the use of what Tim O’Brien calls “story-truth” he puts us in his hoes and he shows us the life of an American soldier in Vietnam.