Professor Thomas
Eng 102
24 March 2003
Research Paper
After reading short stories such as “Barn Burning,” “The Things They
Carried,” and “I Stand Here Ironing,” these works made me wonder what the
authors were thinking when they wrote these short stories. The short
summary before each story do tell some facts about the author, which gives
the reader an explanation for where the author is coming from when he or
she writes the short story. However, these short biographies left me
wanting to learn more information about the authors. The one short story
that raises the most questions is “The Things They Carried,” written by Tim
O’Brien in 1990.

O’Brien is one of many writers who wrote about the Vietnam War, but
one of the few that uses first hand experiences in his stories. This
element adds in the effectiveness of the short story. The great detail of
the war front in Vietnam made me feel like I was part of the platoon, which
was at risk each and every day they stepped outside of their bases. Almost
all of his stories involve a war-like experience or situation.

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This story provides great relevance to me today because of the
situation that our country is involved in over in Iraq.During this
particular time in our country today many parallels are created with the
War today and the Vietnam War. I believe we all need to learn as much as
we can about our country’s history in order to understand the situation we
are currently involved. O’Brien uses his literary techniques to help give
the reader a sense of understanding what the troops go through during war.

I have always been intrigued with stories about personal war experiences or
books describing the time line of events that took place. Before our
country invaded Iraq many people in our country were divided about our
relationship with Iraq. Now it is time for the citizens of the United
States of America to support our troops, who are giving their lives to
fight for something they believe in. Especially since American troops have
started to lose their lives in operation freedom. Many of the scenes in
“The Things They Carried” can relate to the same situation the troops in
Iraq may feel while marching through the desert. I feel that O’Brien is
the perfect author to study and learn more about his background during this
somber time in our country.

The only information that I know about Tim O’Brien is from the short
biography listed before the story. This information states that O’Brien
was born on 1947 in Austin, Minnesota. He received his education from
Macalester College then went to Harvard University to further his
education. O’Brien won the national book award for “Going After Cacciato”
in 1978. His short story, “The Things They Carried,” that I choose to
analyze was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. After reading the story, I
knew that he served in the U.S. Army and fought in the Vietnam War back in
the 1970’s.

The short story “The Things They Carried” poses many questions and
made me feel the need for more information. I want to know what inspired
O’Brien to start writing about the Vietnam War when he returned. What his
actual role in the Vietnam War was and why he decided to join the army are
also questions in my mind. From the story was did he decide to write about
the items the soldiers carried during battle. Also what other stories has
O’Brien written about his war experiences? Through research I hope to find
when O’Brien became serious about writing? What was O’Brien’s opinion on
the war and did he every feel that they were fighting for the wrong
reasons? Was their ever a moment in the war when he mentally lost focus or
did he use writing as a relaxation technique? Many of these questions I
will try to answer from research.

Doing research takes many hours of concentration and time sorting
through sources that are relevant to the topic. I first started to use the
electronic card catalog through Pepperdine express from the library. This
attempt was unsuccessful and only retrieved information that had no
significance to my topic. Every time I have used the card catalog many
attempts have come up unsuccessful, and start to question my techniques. I
decided to go and talk to one of the librarians for assistance. He told me
that I was not using the correct words in the keyword search for the
information I was trying to access. Once I changed the keywords to search
with, I received a number of hits on my topic. After the card catalog I
resorted to using a number of different databases.

The first database I used was extremely unsuccessful and returned no
hits with the keywords “Tim O’Brien or The Things They Carried.” This
database was called Lexis Nexis Academic which receives information from
many different newspapers, magazines, and wire services. The last time I
used Lexis Nexis Academic returned a number of hits for my topic that I
researched for my English 101 research paper. I scrolled down the list of
databases and decided to try Literature Resource Center. This database
combines biographical, bibliographical, and contextual information to
deliver a resource package on authors and their works. Literature Resource
Center was very successful and found a number of sources for Tim O’Brien
and “The Things They Carried.” Many of these sources critiqued the short
story and offered another opinion on the story. I used about three
different articles from this one database for my research. This database
will definitely be used again for other literary research papers that I may
have to write.

After using Literature Resource Center, I decided to go and ask the
librarian for other databases to search. He gave me a list of four other
databases to try, which included CQ Researcher, Newspaper Source, Military
& Government Collection, and Los Angeles Times. Out of these four
databases he wanted me to try, only Military & Government Collection
returned any hits with the keywords I was using to search with. This
database gave me a couple of more sources to use in the research paper.

This whole process of search took about five hours of quality time in the
library. All of this success gives me a great understanding of how to go
about searching the next time I have to do a research paper. Although the
process is lengthy, it saves many hours from having to search by hand
through the card catalogs or other magazines articles. This research
process that I learned in the library will greatly aid in the effectiveness
of my paper.

The research provides me with a greater understanding of O’Brien and
his writing style.


Why he is still writing about war
O’Brien “After each of my books about the war has appeared, I thought it
might be the last, but I’ve stopped saying that to myself. There are just
too many stories left to tell-in fact, more all the time, I suppose that
for the sake of my career, I ought to turn in another direction” (Brucker
C15)
“War stories aren’t about war – they are about the human heart of war”
(Literary Biography 6).

What made him start writing
O’Brien “My life is storytelling, I believe in stories, in their
incredible power to keep people alive, to keep the living alive, and the
dead. And if I have started now to play with the stories, inside the
stories themselves, well, that’s what people do all the time” (Brucker
C17).

“He believes in storytelling, but in storytelling as a way to confront the
ethical complexity of the real modern world” (“Tim O’Brien” 1).

“The Vietnam War, influenced-and even brought about-writing career”
(“O’Brien” 2)
Style
“His diction is simple, his sentences are rhythmic, and his characters have
distinct speaking voices, but they also represent values” (“Tim O’Brien”
1).

“O’Brien’s writing organizes itself around a familiar set of oppositions:
war versus peace, love versus hate, men versus women, reality versus
imagination, sanity versus insanity, cowardice versus courage, safety
versus danger, and change versus stasis” (“Tim O’Brien” 1).

“O’Brien returns again and again to the complex relationship among reality,
the imagination, and language” (“Tim O’Brien” 2).

Imagination shapes our realities
Imagination core of his work
“You shape your own universe. You practice all the time, then practice some
more. You pay attention to craft. You aim for tension and and suspense, a
sense of drama, displaying in concrete terms the actions and reactions of
human beings contesting problems of the heart. You try to make art. You
strive for wholeness, seeking continuity and flow, each element performing
both as cause and effect, always hoping to create, or re-create, the great
illusions of life” (Contemporary Authors 2).

“Insight and wisdom are required, and that means reading and hard thought”
(Contemporary Authors 5).

“The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it” (Literary
Biography 6).

After the war
During several years as a graduate student studying government at Harvard
University (1970-1976) Wrote two his books If I Die in a Combat Zone and
Northern Lights
Teaching assistant and a reporter for the Washington Post
Struggled to make ends meat
The Things They Carried
“The Things They Carried is my best book” (Interview 1).

“a fictional memoir filled with interconnected stories about the conflict
and the people involved” (Contemporary Authors 4).

“The most innovative and challenging book he had written to date” (Literary
Biography 1).

“revealing the most terrible truths about human beings” (Literary Biography
1).

Prescott “Wars seldom produce good short stories, but two or three of these
seem as good as any short stories written about war” (Literary Biography
2).

“Ninety percent or more of the material is invented, and I invented ninety
percent of a new Tim O’Brien, maybe even more than that” (Literary
Biography 3).

“Stylistic risk taker and innovator with his own well established themes”
(Literary Biography 3).

Writers he is compared too
“O’Brien currently belongs to the small platoon of great American war
writers that has walked through native mythic terrain” (Literary Biography
5).

Limited category “war writer”
Crane, Hemingway, Jones, Mailer, Vonnegut
Publications by Tim O’Brien
If I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me Home
Northern Lights
Going After Cacciato
The Nuclear Age
In the Lake of the Woods
Other short stories and contributes to Playboy, Esquire and Redbook

Author