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    Chris Elliott Essay (1603 words)

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    Professor ThomasEng 10224 March 2003Research PaperAfter reading short stories such as “Barn Burning,” “The Things TheyCarried,” and “I Stand Here Ironing,” these works made me wonder what theauthors were thinking when they wrote these short stories.

    The shortsummary before each story do tell some facts about the author, which givesthe reader an explanation for where the author is coming from when he orshe writes the short story. However, these short biographies left mewanting to learn more information about the authors. The one short storythat raises the most questions is “The Things They Carried,” written by TimO’Brien in 1990. O’Brien is one of many writers who wrote about the Vietnam War, butone of the few that uses first hand experiences in his stories. Thiselement adds in the effectiveness of the short story. The great detail ofthe war front in Vietnam made me feel like I was part of the platoon, whichwas at risk each and every day they stepped outside of their bases.

    Almostall of his stories involve a war-like experience or situation. This story provides great relevance to me today because of thesituation that our country is involved in over in Iraq. During thisparticular time in our country today many parallels are created with theWar today and the Vietnam War. I believe we all need to learn as much aswe can about our country’s history in order to understand the situation weare currently involved. O’Brien uses his literary techniques to help givethe reader a sense of understanding what the troops go through during war. I have always been intrigued with stories about personal war experiences orbooks describing the time line of events that took place.

    Before ourcountry invaded Iraq many people in our country were divided about ourrelationship with Iraq. Now it is time for the citizens of the UnitedStates of America to support our troops, who are giving their lives tofight for something they believe in. Especially since American troops havestarted to lose their lives in operation freedom. Many of the scenes in”The Things They Carried” can relate to the same situation the troops inIraq may feel while marching through the desert. I feel that O’Brien isthe perfect author to study and learn more about his background during thissomber time in our country. The only information that I know about Tim O’Brien is from the shortbiography listed before the story.

    This information states that O’Brienwas born on 1947 in Austin, Minnesota. He received his education fromMacalester College then went to Harvard University to further hiseducation. O’Brien won the national book award for “Going After Cacciato”in 1978. His short story, “The Things They Carried,” that I choose toanalyze was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. After reading the story, Iknew that he served in the U. S.

    Army and fought in the Vietnam War back inthe 1970’s. The short story “The Things They Carried” poses many questions andmade me feel the need for more information. I want to know what inspiredO’Brien to start writing about the Vietnam War when he returned. What hisactual role in the Vietnam War was and why he decided to join the army arealso questions in my mind. From the story was did he decide to write aboutthe items the soldiers carried during battle. Also what other stories hasO’Brien written about his war experiences? Through research I hope to findwhen O’Brien became serious about writing? What was O’Brien’s opinion onthe war and did he every feel that they were fighting for the wrongreasons? Was their ever a moment in the war when he mentally lost focus ordid he use writing as a relaxation technique? Many of these questions Iwill try to answer from research.

    Doing research takes many hours of concentration and time sortingthrough sources that are relevant to the topic. I first started to use theelectronic card catalog through Pepperdine express from the library. Thisattempt was unsuccessful and only retrieved information that had nosignificance to my topic. Every time I have used the card catalog manyattempts have come up unsuccessful, and start to question my techniques. Idecided to go and talk to one of the librarians for assistance.

    He told methat I was not using the correct words in the keyword search for theinformation I was trying to access. Once I changed the keywords to searchwith, I received a number of hits on my topic. After the card catalog Iresorted to using a number of different databases. The first database I used was extremely unsuccessful and returned nohits with the keywords “Tim O’Brien or The Things They Carried. ” Thisdatabase was called Lexis Nexis Academic which receives information frommany different newspapers, magazines, and wire services.

    The last time Iused Lexis Nexis Academic returned a number of hits for my topic that Iresearched for my English 101 research paper. I scrolled down the list ofdatabases and decided to try Literature Resource Center. This databasecombines biographical, bibliographical, and contextual information todeliver a resource package on authors and their works. Literature ResourceCenter was very successful and found a number of sources for Tim O’Brienand “The Things They Carried.

    ” Many of these sources critiqued the shortstory and offered another opinion on the story. I used about threedifferent articles from this one database for my research. This databasewill definitely be used again for other literary research papers that I mayhave to write. After using Literature Resource Center, I decided to go and ask thelibrarian for other databases to search. He gave me a list of four otherdatabases to try, which included CQ Researcher, Newspaper Source, Military& Government Collection, and Los Angeles Times.

    Out of these fourdatabases he wanted me to try, only Military & Government Collectionreturned any hits with the keywords I was using to search with. Thisdatabase gave me a couple of more sources to use in the research paper. This whole process of search took about five hours of quality time in thelibrary. All of this success gives me a great understanding of how to goabout searching the next time I have to do a research paper.

    Although theprocess is lengthy, it saves many hours from having to search by handthrough the card catalogs or other magazines articles. This researchprocess that I learned in the library will greatly aid in the effectivenessof my paper. The research provides me with a greater understanding of O’Brien andhis writing style. Why he is still writing about warO’Brien “After each of my books about the war has appeared, I thought itmight be the last, but I’ve stopped saying that to myself.

    There are justtoo many stories left to tell-in fact, more all the time, I suppose thatfor the sake of my career, I ought to turn in another direction” (BruckerC15)”War stories aren’t about war – they are about the human heart of war”(Literary Biography 6). What made him start writingO’Brien “My life is storytelling, I believe in stories, in theirincredible power to keep people alive, to keep the living alive, and thedead. And if I have started now to play with the stories, inside thestories themselves, well, that’s what people do all the time” (BruckerC17). “He believes in storytelling, but in storytelling as a way to confront theethical complexity of the real modern world” (“Tim O’Brien” 1).

    “The Vietnam War, influenced-and even brought about-writing career”(“O’Brien” 2)Style”His diction is simple, his sentences are rhythmic, and his characters havedistinct speaking voices, but they also represent values” (“Tim O’Brien”1). “O’Brien’s writing organizes itself around a familiar set of oppositions:war versus peace, love versus hate, men versus women, reality versusimagination, sanity versus insanity, cowardice versus courage, safetyversus danger, and change versus stasis” (“Tim O’Brien” 1). “O’Brien returns again and again to the complex relationship among reality,the imagination, and language” (“Tim O’Brien” 2). Imagination shapes our realitiesImagination core of his work”You shape your own universe. You practice all the time, then practice somemore.

    You pay attention to craft. You aim for tension and and suspense, asense of drama, displaying in concrete terms the actions and reactions ofhuman beings contesting problems of the heart. You try to make art. Youstrive for wholeness, seeking continuity and flow, each element performingboth as cause and effect, always hoping to create, or re-create, the greatillusions of life” (Contemporary Authors 2).”Insight and wisdom are required, and that means reading and hard thought”(Contemporary Authors 5).”The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it” (LiteraryBiography 6).After the warDuring several years as a graduate student studying government at HarvardUniversity (1970-1976) Wrote two his books If I Die in a Combat Zone andNorthern LightsTeaching assistant and a reporter for the Washington PostStruggled to make ends meatThe Things They Carried”The Things They Carried is my best book” (Interview 1).”a fictional memoir filled with interconnected stories about the conflictand the people involved” (Contemporary Authors 4).”The most innovative and challenging book he had written to date” (LiteraryBiography 1).”revealing the most terrible truths about human beings” (Literary Biography1).Prescott “Wars seldom produce good short stories, but two or three of theseseem as good as any short stories written about war” (Literary Biography2).”Ninety percent or more of the material is invented, and I invented ninetypercent of a new Tim O’Brien, maybe even more than that” (LiteraryBiography 3).”Stylistic risk taker and innovator with his own well established themes”(Literary Biography 3).Writers he is compared too”O’Brien currently belongs to the small platoon of great American warwriters that has walked through native mythic terrain” (Literary Biography5).Limited category “war writer”Crane, Hemingway, Jones, Mailer, VonnegutPublications by Tim O’BrienIf I Die in a Combat Zone, Box Me Up and Ship Me HomeNorthern LightsGoing After CacciatoThe Nuclear AgeIn the Lake of the WoodsOther short stories and contributes to Playboy, Esquire and Redbook

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