The Things They Carried

Let’s Communicate: It’s Not About War

“How to Tell a True War Story,” in Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried, has almost nothing to do with war. Rather, it has to do with the difficulties of a speaker to communicate their feelings—which are conveyed through stories—as well as the listeners’ failure to understand them. “How to Tell a True War Story” includes several accounts of events that occurred in the main characters’ lives during Vietnam. One of which concerns the character Bob Kiley, or Rat as most people call him. A week after his friend dies, Rat decides to write a letter to his friend’s sister telling her about the good times they had, how great of a guy he was, and how much he loved him. Although Rat mails the letter, even after two months, the sister never replies back. In response, Rat complains, “’I write this beautiful fuckin’ letter, I slave over it, and what happens? The dumb cooze never writes back’” (69). The letter, which is both the recollections of his experiences with and his true and honest feelings for his best friend, is Rat Kiley’s story. And it is a story that the listener, in this case the sister, does not understand—she could not get that the letter “wasn’t a war story” but that “It was a love story” (85). The use of the word “...

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