The Things They Carried

How can this novel be considered a love story and not a war story?

Think about the different meanings and levels of love

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The shift from the first story to “Love” is one of the most jarring in the book for the reader who expects a traditional novel or a collection of short stories. In a novel, it is unlikely that there would be a shift in geography (Vietnam to Massachusetts), time (many years) and narrator (third person omniscient to first person) all at once. In a collection of short stories, on the other hand, two stories would not normally share the same characters, themes and events. “The Things They Carried” jars by doing all of these things.

“Love” serves to tie up the narrative strings of “The Things They Carried,” but also to call into question the whole process of storytelling. The Things They Carried is as much about why one would tell stories at all as it is about war. This preoccupation of fiction with its own role is often called “meta-fiction.” Meta-fiction consciously points to its own status as fiction and anxiously asks what purpose fiction might serve. In “Love,” when Cross asks that he be portrayed as a hero, there is an emotional content in the request: the reader feels Cross’ hurt and sorrow that he has not acted as a hero. But the reader is also forced to wonder: Has O’Brien acceded to his character/friend’s demand? Or is the fiction in some other way warped or untrue?