The Things They Carried

How “The Things They Carried” Challenges the Conventions of the Memoir Genre 12th Grade

The question of whether or not Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried” conforms to the conventions of the memoir genre is a complex matter quite simply because it is a novel that deliberately blurs the lines of fact and fiction. The stories are based on real events, but hide behind the facade of pieces of fiction, which brings about a phenomenon known as story-telling truths. This makes the novel appear to be a memoir. Tim O’Brien paradoxically challenges both the conventions of a memoir as much as he does those of a novel, but in this essay, the main focus will be on how he challenges features typical of the memoir genre.

The episodes, categorised as a novel in the paperback edition, chronicle the experiences of a platoon in Vietnam, sharing their emotions, their at times black humour, and their shortcomings. It is structured as a series of short stories interspersed together with the same characters, each story developing each soldier’s experiences. O’Brien’s stories go back and forth in time, creating a memoir-like feeling. This is also a tool O’Brien utilises to get to different types of truth by presenting experiences in different ways. Such an informal structure is often prevalent in memoirs.

The arguably most notable...

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