College Essay Examples

The Things They Carried (Prompt 1) Essay Example


The novel “The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien differs from a “traditional” story because it is a collection of short stories that are all related to one another. The novel tells the story of a platoon of soldiers in the Vietnam War who fought alongside each other and experienced the conflict. O’Brien bases the novel on his own experiences in the 23rd Infantry Division where he experienced different aspects of the war while he was in Vietnam. This paper provides information about how the novel differs from a traditional story and the fact that it can be considered as ‘fiction.’


The novel by Tim O’Brien is a collection of different short stories that make up the plot for the entire book. The novel certainly differs from a traditional story that usually has an introduction, a body, and a conclusion by having neither of these. A traditional story usually tells a story from a certain beginning point, relying on a single theme and message to communicate the major elements of the story. The novel by O’Brien, however, breaks up the entire story into shorter but related stories that provide an insightful journey through different experiences he underwent in Vietnam (Smith 582).

Therefore, the novel differs from a traditional story because it does not have a continuously flowing plot, instead of relying on broken down stories to bring the entire picture of the war in Vietnam. The novel makes use of different stylistic features, and the level of creative freedom is very high, allowing for the division of the book, unlike a traditional story. The different levels of division within the book make the story completely different from a traditional story as it does not follow the standard format of relaying the book (Smith 583).

“The Things They Carried” by Tim O’Brien differs from a “traditional” story also because it can neither be classified as a work of fiction or nonfiction. The use of meta-fiction has been effectively employed to ensure that the reader is well aware that they are reading a work of fiction despite it being set in a non-fiction background. O’Brien relies on the use of semi-autobiographical characters from his previous book, and he gets them into the third book on the background of actual events (Kaplan 579). Therefore, the novel cannot be classified as a traditional story because of the heavy reliance on both fictive and non-fictive elements to communicate the message of the novel.

The point of view of the story also keeps altering between the collection of short stories. For instance, the short story ‘On the Rainy River’ provides an account of O’Brien’s hesitation to go to war, even considering running away to the US-Canada border and escape responsibilities. On the other hand, the short story ‘Enemies and Friends’ is told from the point of view of two soldiers, Jensen and Strunk. The different depictions of the same story provide an intricate twist but makes it different from a traditional story.

The use of symbolism is also heavy throughout the story, with O’Brien also relying on the tactic of verisimilitude to make his story different from a traditional story. Symbolism is used throughout the story to depict different aspects of the experiences of O’Brien while in Vietnam, and it also helps to emphasize some of the challenges faced by the soldiers in the platoon. Verisimilitude has been used to make the fictional aspects of the story ‘believable,’ for instance by highlighting the role that the semi-autobiographical soldiers played in the conflict (Kaplan 581). This makes the story very different from a traditional story and makes the experiences of O’Brien in the Vietnam War stand out.


The novel by Tim O’Brien is different from a traditional story because the collection of short stories that compose the novel have used different types of styles to communicate the main message. The divisions of the book make the story easier to read, and it differs from the traditional format of a story involving the introduction, body and conclusion of the story. Therefore, though the story reads more like a memoir, it can be called a ‘fiction’ story for the unique fictive elements introduced to back the main message of the novel. The combination of both fiction and nonfiction elements in the novel makes the novel be classified overall from a ‘fictional’ point of view.

Works Cited

Kaplan, Steve. “From the Undying Uncertainty of the narrator in Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried” p. 577-582.

Smith, Lorrie N. “”From ‘The Things Men Do’: The Gendered Subtext in Tim O’Brien’s Esquire Stories” p. 582-593.

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