Thursday, 24 November 2016

The Things They Carried: Fiction vs Fact


Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried consists of 22 short stories: some of which play out in Vietnam, and others in the United States of America. The first short story I read took place in Vietnam with the Alpha Company. The second story plays out at the edge of the United States, near the border of Canada. There is a connection between all of these short stories. Tim O’Brien seems to realise that you cannot just tell a small part of the story without having to talk about the other parts of the story, too. You cannot talk about Vietnam war without mentioning the soldiers and the victims. Tina Chen agrees with this, she says that it is exactly the connection between the short stories that really puts together the whole picture of the Vietnam war and how it was for those who had to fight in a war they didn’t really believe in: “In O'Brien's war stories, the figuration's of home/body/Vietnam/stories coalesce to produce an awareness of how no single idea can be unravelled from the cloth woven by the connections between each of them.”.

The relationship between truth and fiction is another bit part of this book. Maria Bonn states that O’Brien has looked at the relationship between fact and fiction and the differences between them, as well as the relationship between memory and imagination and how over time these two start to overlap. He was part of the Vietnam war but he has also been in the position where he read and wrote  texts about the war. So he is part of both groups. Bonn goes on to say that, as you can see on the slide, “in the creative space between these poles he locates “story” and “truth” as agents of reconciliation and education”. 

As mentioned on the first few pages of the novel, The Things They Carried is a work of fiction, with a few autobiographical elements, but the characters are fictional (or so he says). However, O’Brien also dedicates the book to these men: “This book is lovingly dedicated to the men of Alpha Company, and in particular to Jimmy Cross, Norman Bowker, Rat Kiley, Mitchell Sanders, Henry Dobbins, and Kiowa”. Tim O’Brien appears to have thought about everything, so much so that even in his dedication he sneakily plays with the reader's perception of the story. Making his reader confused about what exactly is the truth and what isn’t.

According to Bonn, Tim O’Brien feels that sometimes fiction, and I quote, “has greater potential for conveying essential truth than non-fiction does”. He came to this conclusion due to his own personal experiences. He appears to believe that fiction will do a better job at grasping the essence of the war. According to Pamela Smiley he wanted to use it to make those who stayed home during the war and never fought or witnessed the horrors of Vietnam, understand what was going on and how it affected the soldiers, who were sometimes no more than teens. Tim O’Brien said that “a true war story, if truly told, makes the stomach believe”.

There is also some fiction going on within the minds of the characters. In the first chapter, it becomes clear that there is a grey area between what really happened and what the men wish had happened. Lieutenant Jimmy Cross, for example, keeps telling himself that Martha does not love him, but at the same time he imagines that she does. On the first pages he writes: “[The letters] were signed Love, Martha, but Lieutenant Cross understood Love was only a way of signing and did not mean what he sometimes pretended it meant”. Even though he knows it does not mean what he wished it would mean, he still pretends that it does. Losing sight of what is fact and what is fiction.

O’Brien writes: “In some respects, though not many, the waiting was worse than the tunnel itself. Imagination was a killer”, expressing that what they soldiers feared was happening was worse than what was actually going on in the tunnel. In the second chapter Tim O’Brien says: “In the beginning the idea seemed purely abstract, the word Canada printing itself out in my head; but after a time I could see particular shapes and images, the sorry details of my own future”. What starts out as an opportunity in the mind of Tim O’Brien, slowly but steadily because his future. At least in his mind. So, in our opinion, for the characters there is not always a definite truth, either. 

In the beginning of On the Rainy River, he explains why he is telling this story. He states that he’s had to live with it for over 20 years and has not yet told it to anybody. Hoping that putting it into words will help him deal with what happened. As I have mentioned before, there is a very fine line between fact and imagination in this book and this is another part in which it appears that Tim O’Brien knew what he was doing. As a reader I was convinced that this was autobiographical, that it was something that really happened, however as the book states in the beginning, it is a work of fiction. So what do we believe and what don’t we believe? But also what should we believe? Unfortunately, it is up to us to decide because he does not tell us which parts are reality and which parts are not. And even if he did, should we accept that as the truth? In On the Rainy River Tim O’Brien says: “All you can do is tell it one more time, patiently, adding and subtracting, making up a few things to get to the real truth.” (O’Brien) And I think that’s exactly what he has done with this whole book.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Present Day

I know my blog has been somewhat silent for the passed few weeks and I can blame my uni for it, with all the exams and deadlines. But honestly I just didn't feel like writing about fairy tales due to all the awful stuff that's going on in the world right now. As an early teen (13 to 16-years-old, ish) I always said, nay screamed that I would never ever have children. This is something my parents and brothers still tease me with because I have since revised my statement on children. Now, 10 years later (dear .. I'm old), I finally understand why I felt that way (thank you therapy). Not only did I believe myself to be incapable of raising kids (properly), I also did not believe the world to be a safe place to bring anyone in to. As a 9-year-old I started having nightmares about my mom. She used to work night shifts at a gas-station and as a 9-year-old I started to grasp what this meant. It meant that my mom was working in an isolated environment, in the middle of the night, all by herself (mostly).

I did not like that image and it haunted me at night. I'd refuse to go to bed, or sit on the stairs listening to my parents talk, or sneak into bed with my brothers, because the thought of sleeping alone in the dark scared me due to what would happen once I was asleep; images of my mom being taken from us; the idea that my mom would go to work and wouldn't return. 9-year-old Alyssa was beginning to understand how the world worked and I did not like it (I just realised that this wasn't too long after 9/11.. I think I was on the verge of understand the immensity of and cruelness of the people). I started to have this obsessed view of life and death and how everything can be taken from you in matter of seconds. My parents, grandparents or brothers could die and just stop existing. 

But that wouldn't/won't happen, right? Fuck that, life's tough and almost nothing is certain. I could fall of the sidewalk and die, but the same could happen to my loved-ones. It's something I often think about when I cycle into the city and see some idiot on a bike ignoring a red light and barely escaping a car that did not see the cyclist coming. I imagine myself in that position. Going over the last things I said to the people I love. Was it clear that I loved them? Should I have said it more. But that was all just life.. you know nothing serious was going to happen, like the wars that happened in Europe in the beginning of the previous century? Because that would never happen to us now. We've learned from our mistakes (you see where I'm going with this..). 

But really.. did we move on? After the first and second world war, which had so little time between them. Anyone who knows me (or read my blog every once in a while) knows I am obsessed with Disney. Why? Because I desperately need to believe that life can be good and happy. That people can fall in love and have happy-endings. That it's not all difficult, sad.. that not everything just stops or ends in misery. This is what keeps me up at night. All the troubles of the world. The images of hungry kinds in third world countries. People being shot for reasons I don't understand. People going off the war and planes flying into buildings. I mean people can be good, right? Because nobody is born with hate in their hearts.. we are all just innocent kids at one point..

It does not seem to have gotten better.. No matter how hard a few people seem to be fighting for people's.. equality and love, it doesn't seem like any of it matters. I live in a bubble of love. I have loving people around me, who support me and urge me to study hard so I can achieve things in life. But what am I working for? I want to finish uni as soon as possible.. so I can start working .. so I can ultimately buy a house and start a family. That's the plan. Finding a job I could love doing, a place to I could love to live in and a man who could love me for the rest of my life and have kids who I'd love with everything I have. But right now I don't know.. that plan can only work if the world is a safe place. I thought we were closing the divisions in humanity but recently I just feel like we're creating more and more gaps. I guess what I'm saying is.. I'm back to 10 years ago, a scared little girl who holds her heart hoping my loved-ones will be safe.. hoping there won't be another war that could put those I love in harms way. 

I will start writing about fairy-tales and adaptations again, next week. Probably starting with Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found There. Followed (possibly) by Peter Pan.