Quotes and Analysis

They carried the soldier’s greatest fear, which was the fear of blushing. Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to. It was what had brought them to the war in the first place, nothing positive, no dreams of glory or honor, just to avoid the blush of dishonor. They died so as not to die of embarrassment.

Taken from the first story  “The Things they Carried” is a part of a much longer passage about the emotional burdens expressed by men who are at risk of death. O’Brien argues that self-possessed fear of cowardice is a common secret against the solders of war. He deflates the idea that men go to war to become heroes, instead stating that they go because they are forced to and because refusing means they are cowards.

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.

This quote is taken from “Notes”, a story written about O’Brien’s efforts to dispel the guilt that Norman Bowker feels about the death of Kiowa and is feelings of worthlessness after the war ends. O’Brien takes into consideration his own storytelling after he receives a letter written by Bowker asking for a story, because he wants to be able to better explain the way he his feeling but is unable to find the words.

I’d come to this war a quiet, thoughtful sort of person, a college grad, Phi Beta Kappa and summa cum laude, all the credentials, but after seven months in the bush I realize that those high, civilized trappings had somehow been crushed under the weight of the simple day realities, I’d turned mean inside.

In “Ghost Soldiers” when O’Brien attempts to get revenge on Bobby Jorgenson for failing to treat him competently, he concedes that he is behaving illogically. Despite is having been difficult for him to admit, after having spent enough time in Vietnam, O’Brien realizes that he is, in fact, capable of evil. The only way for him to deal with having been hurt is to hurt someone back in return.

Sometimes I can even see Timmy skating with Linda under the yellow floodlights. I’m young and happy. I’ll never die. I’m skimming across the surface of my own history, moving fast, riding the melt beneath the blades, doing loops and spins, and when I take a high leap into the dark and come down thirty years later, I realize it is as Tim trying to save Timmy’s life with a story.

In “The Lives of the the Dead” O’Brien furthers the scope of his work by contrasting his very first encounter with death as a soldier with his first real encounter with death when, his 9 year old friend Linda died from a brain tumor. In this specific quote, O’Brien explains how recollections and storytelling are essential for providing comfort during times of mourning and how they have helped him to cope with his pain.

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