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

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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 stones 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 onciliation of truth that he uses to recreate his discourse of Vietnam using fictional form combined with a clear exhlbltlon 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 isjointed 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 nd 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. Traumatizing moments within one’s life typically lack distinct narrative so by addressing O’Brien’s attempt to begin categorizing 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 portraying them all in a whirlwind of confusion and panic.

O’Brien’s structure on page 32 reveals an almost regimented response to his feelings demonstrating a fragmented syntax. Even briefly revisiting these events through writing reveals the obstacle of truth and secrecy. As O’Brien writes ‘The bad stuff never stops happening: it lives in its own dimension, replaying itself over and over. ‘ (O’Brien, 32) we are subject not only to repetition but an elementary and universal choice of language. It appears O’Brien attempts to recreate his account by not exaggerating or hyperbolizing his writing but by recreating it in its truest form. This choice of the word ‘bad’ may be interpreted in several ways.

Firstly, it can be approached as a universal simplicity and root of all that can be related to in a negative context. On the other hand, the idea that O’Brien uses such a simple noun can be accepted as a form of isolation refusing to allow others to truly comprehend the horrors he and his fellow comrades were subjected to. This self-offered isolation of traumatic memory reveals a heightened reality of what is happening but betrays traditional classifications of exile. A description of exile can be referred to as a split between the self and its true home; another signifies the punishment of waiting to return home.

This wait and wanting becomes a resignation of destination rather than a hope to be reunited with something so familiar. Using this logic O’Brien himself becomes a displaced writer and narrator. It is this displacement from the experience of such horrifying events that fails to be equally represented publically for a prolonged duration of time creating as Herman coins it, an “underground” history of psychological trauma. (Herman, 2) Only an understanding and rediscovery of this trauma and displacement can we interpret and learn from our past.

The extract from age 32 directly links to events about to be retold within the narrative. This suggestion of foreboding is done so passively disengaging from any emotive language and in a matter of fact tone. This disassociation relocates not only the mind’s perception on events but the overall reaction towards it. As O’Brien describes the last moment of Curt Lemon’s life, Lemon merely ‘soars into a tree. ‘ (O’Brien, 32) This transcendence of movement coexists to attack the reader’s senses extracting them from their own comfort and location into another world where their imagination is the content to support Lemon’s death.

It is almost as if O’Brien intends to isolate the reader in a reversal of positions making the reader not only an intruder, but a victim. As we witness this, we become an observer who is capable of remaining clearheaded and constructing a collected series of events. Herman argues that witnesses suffer in coherency however by O’Brien inducting us, the reader; we become almost second hand witnesses to history and events bridging the rift between victims and psychological trauma. The displacement O’Brien represents can be categorised on many levels be it narrative, cultural, social, temporal, eographical, and moral.

Despite the idea of displacement revealing little possibility of return, The Things They Carried lives off multiple returns to situations from exiled home right back to the heart of Vietnam. Pages 69-70 do Just that in demonstrating the last moments of Curt Lemon. By repeatedly returning to Vietnam geographically through the narrative, it ironically becomes a new foundation and basis as a home. By doing so, O’Brien suggests that a interval of space and time creates a new desire as a resting place and solace of trauma but instead of it being of home and family, it s the world that was created for them back in Vietnam.

It is this alienation that becomes a catalyst for retelling these stories in an attempt to recreate or relive in a state of normality. As O’Brien relives the moment of Lemon’s death his writing becomes fragmented and disorientated. All description appears in disjunction taking the opportunity of his death as a moment to describe Lemon. As the extract climaxes, O’Brien can only define Lemon’s demise to as something ‘almost beautiful, the way the sunlight came around him and lifted him up and sucked him high into a tree full of moss and vines nd white blossoms.

The natural imagery this description constructs is not one normally associated with death. Each verb creates an idea of transcendence, always moving towards something greater or beautiful before being ‘sucked’ back towards the reality of war. Even when this occurs, Lemon is still surrounded by natural beauty portraying a dramatic irony of his death. It is worth noticing the significance of such a personal tragedy failing to negate any of the natural aesthetics of his surroundings during such a poignant episode.

This image can be interpreted s death being a final escape from the isolation and exile granted in such areas but for O’Brien, only retelling and recapturing this image can grant him any solace. As the extract continues O’Brien changes his approach from describing the scene to addressing the reader on the difficulties of retelling a true story. By doing so he takes the reader through the considerations and experiences that must be applied to the focused attempt of retelling and recounting such an event.

As O’Brien writes What seems to happen becomes its own happening and has to be told that way. O’Brien, 70) it appears the truth within his own account can be the purest interpretation on the chronology of events. As O’Brien names the dead, these bodies can be reanimated creating the physical aspects of each character taking on a metaphysical significance. This can be applied to the metonymy used throughout the text designating the relationships and constructions of Vietnam as a newfound location for these exiles and displaced characters creating the background of his stories to be as organic and integral as the reasoning for his writing.

This paradox of aesthetic eauty and horrific death promotes the irony that grants O’Brien the ability to successfully initiate the reader into the experience that Vietnam waits to give with a gruelling curiosity. It is this surreal and deceptive fallacious account that veers towards making the story appear untrue however O’Brien states that this ‘in fact represents the hard and exact trust as it seemed’.

The Things They Carried then is more than simply a collection of stories; it suggests it is more about the need to retell stories, methods to describe stories, and most importantly, the reasoning behind retelling them. When considering trauma, exile, and displacement the stories invest a purposeful reaction and direction despite knowing fully well there could never be a final comfort from doing so. Instead, the stories demonstrate dual functions through redeeming the experience of such things like exile using metonymic substitutions like Vietnam as a new found home.

Instead The Things They Carried pivots on the realisation of return, the potential of differencing story with experience and the real with the imaginary. This can also be applied to metaphoric relations to bodies who have been given names and O’Brien’s wn moral compass. Therefore it is the survivors of such events that remain the only ones to reinvigorate the drive to connect and reconstruct both stories and our history. By addressing such themes as discussed we are making ‘meaning of their present symptoms in the light of past events. ‘

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