Please use this identifier to cite or link to this item: http://hdl.handle.net/1946/11522
"Bell-Shaped Flowers and Butterflies." Metaphor and Metafiction in Tim O'Brien's Vietnam War Stories The Things They Carried
Based on his experiences during the Vietnam War Tim O’Brien wrote a collection of short stories, later be published collectively in 1990 under the name The Things They Carried, in which he describes his and his company’s time and experience during their deployment in Vietnam. But what might be, at first glance, seen as an autobiographical war story is so much more than just that. Through the use of metaphors, symbols, allegory and metafiction O’Brien manages to add a certain depth to the story. While it seems to be an autobiography, it is not, as O’Brien points out in the book numerous times that it is fiction, as well in the complete title of the book The Things They Carried – a Work of Fiction by Tim O’Brien.
O’Brien chooses to use figurative language, especially metaphors and symbols, to describe and depict some of the main elements in the book, the USA, Vietnam, the Vietnam War and of course the members of the Alpha Company. An allegory of pilgrimage is also one of the issues seen in the book. Both the Alpha Company and Tim O’Brien in one way or another go on a pilgrimage. While the Alpha Company’s pilgrimage is more physical, O’Brien’s is more spiritual and emotional as his pilgrimage is taken on in writing the story. Another element of the book is its metafictional quality and the question of truth and fiction. Even though the book is somewhat structured as an autobiography, O’Brien leaves us often wondering as to whether the stories are real or made-up, and one comes to the conclusion that fiction can sometimes indeed be “more truthful” than fact.