In his book, Tim O’Brien aims to shed light on misconceptions and truths of war by thoroughly describing the thoughts and feelings of a soldier in the Vietnam War. He includes the steps and paths taken to become a soldier and also the detailed descriptions of war stories and their effects on individual men. Through examples of death and hardship, O’Brien ties the reader emotionally to the main character. The way he strategically organizes his book to walk the reader through the events of war really immerses the reader while providing insight to tragedy.
In the beginning of the book, O’Brien uses great detail to describe the materialistic things that the different soldiers carried. But the things they carried were not always tangible items but emotional burdens as well. Many of the soldiers were very young – teenagers, newly wedded husbands, or even students. These men were not capable of fulfilling the cruel demands of war such as killing other human beings and being away from loved ones for excruciatingly long times. The book clearly illustrates the conflict of love and war. The main character, Lieutenant Cross, carries emotional burdens himself. A very prominent one is the love he possesses for Martha. The woman who he keeps a picture of in his wallet. The woman whom he still loves and wishes loved him back. He constantly deals with internal turmoil regarding the fragmented relationship he carries with Martha. He often finds himself fantasizing over what they could have been.
Another example of how war affects men is how Lieutenant Cross reacts to the death of Ted Lavender and Kiowa. Cross reacts with much guilt and grief because he was responsible for the lives of the company: When a man died, there had to be blame. Jimmy Cross understood this. You could blame the war A moment of carelessness or bad judgment or plain stupidity carried consequences that lasted forever.” (In the Field.115) This quote is Jim Cross blaming himself for Kiowa’s death. He goes over all the things he could blame but he believes it was his fault. Again, this further proves the internal issues and baggage Jim carries. In another response to the death(s), he rips up the photograph of Martha and basically blames her for his inattentiveness. Due to his preoccupation with her. These two examples, out of many, prove how war affects a person and their emotions. Sometimes their actions too. On any other day, Lieutenant Cross would have ever considered to rip up the picture of Martha due to his emotional ties to her. But he chose to do this due to his deep rooted anger and self hate initially regarding the situation. Many of Cross’s decisions were based off of emotion because he was stripped of mental health as a result of war.
This book is stylistically unique among all other attributes. While I was reading the book, the main thing that stood out to me, regarding organization, was the way that O’Brien achieved to capture my attention and help me relate to the book. By choosing an omniscient narration, I was able to go through the emotions with the main character. By using this narration style, O’Brien is able to appeal to all ages and people of different walks of life. Even though the reader may not have any military background.
If you refer back to the chapter titles, the titles are a story in themselves. Each title refers to the main theme of the chapter. Sometimes the titles contradict one another. For example: Enemies & Friends. But the titles from the example can be seen as O’Brien giving the reader both sides to a coin.
He then includes the chapter How to tell a good war story, when ironically, this book is a war story. Details like organization can often be viewed as small or insignificant. But if you pay attention to the small details, they can help you understand the book a little more and also see the intentions of the author. The chapters of the book tell a story, about a story. And a detail like that is what makes this book more interesting.
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