Trauma, Psychological Exile, and Displacement Within the Things They Carried

Topics: Vietnam War, Narrative, Psychological trauma Pages: 5 (1899 words) Published: August 6, 2013
Tim O’Brien constructs a meticulous narrative in order to portray a true representation of war through his writing. It is well known however that truth always becomes a casualty through war resulting in a challenging approach for O’Brien. Although deemed a work of fiction, many of the stories within The Things They Carried reflect an almost autobiographical outlook through the characters combined with metafiction. O’Brien does well to create a distinction between the truth of the narrative and that of the truth of the events taking place. Therefore it is this conciliation of truth that he uses to recreate his discourse of Vietnam using fictional form combined with a clear exhibition of facts and figures such as in “The Things They Carried” (O’Brien, 3-21). Nevertheless O’Brien still faces an infinite obstacle in regards to trauma. Herman states that ‘The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is the central dialectic of psychological trauma.’ (Herman, 2) In effect the survivors of such ordeals retell their stories in a heavily distorted account due to emotional stress often controverting into a disjointed narrative. Yet it is not merely victims who suffer from trauma but witnesses to such events as maintaining a lucid state in these circumstances becomes fragmented and often impossible to recall coherently. Herman suggests that this state of mind functions as ‘twin imperatives of truth-telling and secrecy’. (Herman, 2) It is this secrecy that forms a disassociation from those telling their accounts to targeted audiences.

The impact of O’Brien’s fiction appears as an attempt to draw a visceral reaction from the reader investigating literal and metaphorical relationships between stories and bodies. These aspects are severely influenced by trauma and the resulting state of being displaced. It is the inability to reverse the modulation of character and thought from experience in war that troubles veterans. Only the desire to tell and retell their accounts offers a small respite. Despite the changes and differences in their recounting of events down to personal experience and interpretation, it is through this method that a representation of the truth conveyed can be revealed. The Vietnam War itself remains a concrete presence in terms of American culture, literature and sociology. It is the concept of the unresolved that haunts and the moral uncertainty that permeates through American military history. It is this aftermath of war and the enduring damages that remain unhealed and unresolved. The truth that O’Brien retells though creates more of a deconditioning than resolution. These inescapable and haunting experiences inflect if not all aspects of The Things They Carried creating the idea of exile. Exile within The Things They Carried creates a condition of a remanisfestation of fear from not only the comforts of home but of a returning from war to now, foreign place. From reading O’Brien’s work it is apparent that he does not attempt to disarm or recover from trauma but more accepting the moral ambiguity and the impact Vietnam has in their lives.

Traumatising moments within one’s life typically lack distinct narrative so by addressing O’Brien’s attempt to begin categorising and creating a comprehensible context gives the reader a firm starting point in this process. An example of this can be seen on page 32 of The Things They Carried. This effort to begin writing is already staggered with invasive images and memories that mercilessly intrude giving a mere insight into the difficulty of recounting his story. This ever moving transition of memories from Kiowa to Curt Lemon coerces alternation ‘between feeling number and reliving the event.’ (Herman, 2) The conflict of traumatic events reveals complex, altered states of consciousness. The hysteria portrayed therefore appears in a controlled, focused fashion recalling characters later to be discussed rather than...

Bibliography: Herman, Judith. Trauma and Recovery: the aftermath of violence – from domestic abuse to political terror. New York: Basic Books, 1992. Print.
O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried, 1990. London Flamingo. 1991. Print.
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