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Cinematic Experience of Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”


The Things They Carried is a collection of short novels written by Tim O’Brien that tells the life stories of American soldiers during the Vietnam War. The stories mainly have a fictional character but feature details from real life that the author witnessed and experienced during his participation in the Vietnam War. The work is widely appreciated for the mix of fictional and real-life elements in the narrative and for providing a war perspective from American soldiers without necessarily touching on the political context of the war. Moreover, the plot and narration that the author uses create an almost cinematic experience facilitating the readers’ reception of the text.

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Furthermore, O’Brien’s work presents a collection of short novels connected by one theme, a format frequently used in films. A commonly used technique in cinematography, providing different perspectives on one issue or historical event helps emphasize its significance and show how various people are connected and influenced by that event. In the case of The Things They Carried, the plot emphasizes how in a short period, soldiers almost live a lifespan of experiences and how each of the experiences during the war is deeply remembered.

In addition to the plot format of short stories, the author also occasionally includes flashback segments and settings. The flashback segments accentuate the fictional character of the stories. While it is vital to keep the chronological order for coverage of real-life stories, the author intentionally uses fragments from different time periods to provide contrast in the narrative and add more depth to the grimes of war witnessed by the narrator. In the story Spin, the author remembers the bright side of life during the war and suggests that his “memory-traffic” goes in circles, explaining the inserts that look like messages from the future (O’Brien 33). As flashback segments are more common in films than in literature, the intersection of past, present, and future trigger the reader’s imagination, painting film-like visual images.

Finally, the narrative of the stories adds to the readers’ cinematic experience from the stories. According to Vernon’s article on cinematic effects in The Things They Carried, O’Brien’s work could be influenced by war movies, and the stories’ narrative is close to interpreting the screen. The stories frequently feature visual descriptions that connect to the fragments in the reader’s memory. For example, in a passage where the author talks about freedom birds, the narrator paints the view of America and its mountains, farms, and sleeping cities from a plane’s perspective (O’Brien 22). Movies and war movies, in particular, are mentioned throughout the book, proving that the author for sure was familiar with the way movies could influence an individual’s perception and imagination. For example, in a story called The Man Who Never Was, the author provides a detailed plot of a World War Two film and notes how the narrator was relieved that the movie finally ended. It is unknown if that is a coincidence that the segment about the movie itself takes place in the book’s closing story.


In conclusion, the plot, the setting, and the narration in The Things They Carried contribute to the rich visual component of the stories. Even though it is unknown if the author was influenced by war movies and intentionally featured a more film-like narrative, his work presents a remarkable example of the implementation of cinematic experience in a literary piece. O’Brien’s work emphasizes the importance of the plot, the narrative, and the setting for the visual context of the story and their influence on the reader’s perception of the story.

Works Cited

O’Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009.

Vernon, Alex. “A Kinetoscope of War: The Cinematic Effects of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.” Journal of Narrative Theory, vol. 48, no. 2, 2018, pp. 194–224.

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StudyCorgi. (2022, November 19). Cinematic Experience of Tim O’Brien’s “The Things They Carried”.

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