Reading Through Displacement: Functionality of the Underlying Theme in Tim O'Brien's Fiction

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Virginia Tech


Tim O'Brien, a contemporary author writing mostly about his combat experience in Vietnam, has written eight books to date. All involve Vietnam in some way—overtly, for the most part. He and his stories are well known stylistically for several traits including the blurred distinctions between what actually happened and "story truth," something that did not really happen, but is true nonetheless. Within the story, he also blurs the line between what actually happens and what is imagined by the narrator or one of the characters; and, although he sometimes makes the distinction, he often does not. To help shed some light on this, there are a number of published interviews and articles wherein he discusses the themes, forms, and methods of his writing as well as his experiences.

Research and analysis of O'Brien and his works show that, although his stories overtly deal with a myriad of other issues and themes, the complex and specific theme of displacement caused by trauma is present in all of his work, and can even be considered the engine that drives his stories and how they work with the reader. Additionally, O'Brien's well-known method of writing is actually a subtle yet intensely effective performance and enactment of this underlying theme of displacement. When used as a reading strategy, the theme itself clarifies and unlocks several points of contention about his texts such as O'Brien's generally negative treatment of women.



society, July, July, Tim O'Brien, trauma, displacement, Women, combat, Vietnam, The Things They Carried