The Things They Carried

what does obrien say about storytelling in the chapter notes?

chapter 16

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In “Notes,” the narrator speaks very candidly about his own narrative tricks. Again he calls attention to the fact that the book is fiction. O’Brien points out that it is a constructed narrative, a piece of artwork rather than a piece of “truth.” O’Brien was emotionally involved with the person, Bowker, but emotional truth does not always indicate factual truth. Moreover, in this chapter, O’Brien writes as a cold observer, as a writer, about what “works” and what “doesn’t work” in fiction. He worries that by moving a literary element like a lake he cannot properly mirror the shit field. He does not worry about why Kiowa is dead, as the character of O’Brien does. This literary doubling of character (narrator) and author is kept up throughout the book. One possible influence for this is Argentinian writer Jorge Borges, who also famously wrote about himself in ever-increasing mise-en-abime patterns.

But even the writer O’Brien does have certain emotions: he is anxious that the reader understand he is not trying to dishonor his fellow soldier. Because it is taken out of the context of “Speaking of Courage” and placed in a purportedly non-fictional chapter (complete with accurate dates of publication of the author’s other works), Bowker’s suicide has the ring of authenticity. This gives the event an even deeper impact, perhaps, than had it been included at the end of “Speaking of Courage.” In O’Brien’s dichotomy, it is a “happening-truth” rather than a “story-truth” (see “Good Form”).