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A True War Story

In: English and Literature

Submitted By cwolfe
Words 1098
Pages 5
Tim O’Brien’s “How to Tell a True War Story,” centers on the principle that a reader cannot always trust the narrator of a story to tell the truth. The reader can listen, but must never cease to analyze in order to decipher the truth in each story. In Tim O’Brien’s short story, his narrator is naturally accepted and assumed to be the author of the story. Through this narrator, a story of personal Vietnam War experiences unfolds. Because this appears to be true stories told by O’Brien, the reader is left to assume all the tales are true encounters when in fact, O’Brien mixes truth and fiction in order to make the story believable. It is important to remember that the soldier telling the war story can only relay the facts that he remembers from the event. He may be sincere in telling the events as he remembers, but not accurate in reporting the entirety of the historical picture..
The setting is the Vietnam War; a war filled with controversy, and soldiers and civilians struggling to make sense of it all. In the story, O’Brien creates a believable setting with believable characters. He describes a setting that one would expect to find in Vietnam: rugged terrain, foxholes, jungles and muddy rivers. He also uses the giant canopy of a tree (as one would expect in this area) to tell the details of the death of his friends, Lemon and Rat. Describing the smell of the moss, the white blossoms and the lack of sunlight allowed by the tree, O’Brien creates a soothing feeling to a very tragic ending. Through this setting, readers are told of the cold, violent acts of war, but led to see them in a more comforting and natural setting. The accuracy of stories should be derived from facts and actual supported information. These facts should not be touched by opinion or attitude. However, this type of unbiased reporting is nearly impossible for the soldiers telling the stories.
The use of irony is prevalent throughout the story. The simple statement found throughout the story, “This is true”, reminds the reader that what one perceives as a truth may not always in actuality be true. As we read this story, O’Brien tells of many incidences that occurred during war. War is a very violent time. Truths are often altered due to the human brain’s perception of the events. The narrator of the story tends to tell the truth; however, this truth is relative to the narrator’s memory of the events. Rat’s death is told as the narrator wishes to remember it. Clearly his death was much more violent and tragic than the way it was described in the story. The irony of the story is that the narrator can only tell the parts of what he remembers from the story. The reader is left to fill in the gaps. The narrator’s brain will not allow him to fully recall what he really saw during the death of his friend. Throughout the story, he reminds the reader that sometimes the narrator has to tell a lie in order to make the story believable. The irony of it all is that many of the things the reader perceives as truths in the story may actually be fiction added to make the story believable.
The theme throughout this story is ambiguity. The narrator reminds the reader that the truth of a story is determined by the gut feeling of the reader. A reader should recognize a true story by the feeling one gets in their stomach. In this story, there are four different versions told of Curt Lemon’s death. The reader can determine the actual truth in the story by the feeling they get in their stomach. O’Brien tells the reader that many times the truth must be blended with more believable occurrences for the readers to connect with the story and actually take it for the truth. The narrator frequently reminds the reader of this fact. He suggests the grotesque and bizarre is actually the truth and the run-of-the-mill is that which is fabricated. The normal stuff is thrown in “to make you believe the truly incredible craziness” (556). War is a violent experience that forces the human brain to process the occurrences in a manner that allows it to be bearable. During war, soldiers are living on the edge of reality. Dying, survival, and desperation become a way of life. The soldiers must fabricate stories and memories which allow them to handle the many emotions they are bombarded with on a daily basis. It is through these memories that the stories are retold. In “How to Tell a True War Story” events are retold based on memories. This explains why the same story can be told in four different ways. The story of Curt Lemon’s death is retold four different ways in the story. Each time the reader must attempt to discover the true story of his death. Clearly Lemon met his death in a much different way than described by the author. The author indicated that the sun sucked him into a nearby tree. When in actuality, Lemon stepped on a landmine and was his body was blown up with pieces landing in an overhead tree. The narrator’s mind simply would not allow him to remember the death in this light.
This story, “How to Tell a True War Story”, reminds the reader of the struggles of war. It relates war stories in the way they are remembered by the soldiers. The reader is left with the feeling that there is no one truth to a war story. Each story is told with emotional and attached memories that are impossible to separate from the true actual facts. As the story is told, the audience hears the story and processes it with their mind. The narrator, however, tells the events filtered through his heart. This difference affects the perceptions of the truth and the response of the audience. It is impossible to disconnect the soldier from the personal ties to the story. There is a fine line between truth and fiction. O’Brien helps remind readers of the personal connections and reality found within each war story. He does not intend to “sugar coat” his war memories; however, human nature has a way of doing that without the story teller even being aware that it is occurring. Stories told by soldiers contain all the truths that their brains will allow them to remember. It is difficult and almost impossible to distinguish between the two.…...

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