In the novel, The Things They Carried, Tim O'Brien uses various techniques of postmodernism and metafiction to achieve distinct rhetorical goals. Postmodernism is literature characterized by heavy reliance on techniques such as fragmentation, paradox, and questionable narrations. Metafiction is the literary term describing fictional writing that self-consciously and systematically draws attention to its status as an artifact in posing questions about the relationship between fiction and reality. Metafiction does not let the reader forget that he or she is reading a fictional work. The use of postmodernism and metafiction helps us experience how Tim O’Brien felt while writing this novel.
In this novel the techniques conveyed by postmodernism are fragmentation, paradox, and questionable narrations. A paradox is an effective literary tool because it evokes a thought process for the reader. The reader has to process what is being said to find the author's intended meaning. A paradox causes the readers to think outside the box and challenge themselves to uncover a deeper meaning from the text. This literary tool serves a worthy purpose, because it compels readers to really become involved in their reading. In chapter 4, The Rainy River, the paradox is between bravery and cowardice. O’Brien, tells a story about how he was an anti-war activist. He was then drafted. He was shocked and frustrated, and waffled between running away to Canada to avoid the draft and simply going. He does not want to disgrace his family, but neither does he want to go to war. He says, "I survived, but it's not a happy ending. I was a coward. I went to war" (244).
The paradox here is that he went to war, which is an act of bravery but he called it an act of cowardice. He considered it to be cowardly because he wimped out of leaving the country and sidestepping the draft. He chose to conform and go to war so his family isn't ashamed. O’Brien uses fragmentation throughout the novel to connect the readers to his experiences and emotions. Fragmentation was utilized essentially all through the entire novel but it was commonly used in the chapters called, Spin, The Thing They Carried, and How to Tell a True War Story. For example, O’Brien talks about Curt Lemon’s death in fragments to express the true emotions he felt at the time. This helps us understand the respect and love that O’Brien and Lemon had for each other.
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