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Structure Analysis on How to Tell a True War Story

In: English and Literature

Submitted By mikeac1206
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Michael Cabrera
Structure Analyses

How to Tell a True War Story

In “How to Tell a True War Story,” Tim O’Brien varies from a straight forward approach because of the horrifying contents of war. Instead, his approach is one of repetition, where he retells the death of Curt Lemon, but with different versions. He adopts this structure to make it more tolerable to his audience, express that true war stories never seem to have an end, and demonstrate how truths become contradictory. True war stories by nature are so gruesome and devastating, that the author has to compromise its accuracy by inserting nonfactual, yet more palatable details to cause his listener to believe. The author supports this point when he says, “All you can do is tell it one more time, patiently, adding and subtracting, making up a few things to get to the real truth” (296). In another section he says, “Often the crazy stuff is true and the normal stuff isn’t because the normal stuff is necessary to make you believe the truly incredible craziness” (289). Interestingly, O’Brien reinforces this idea again with the example of the story that Mitchell Sanders tells. Sander says to him, “I got a confession to make… last night, man, I had to make up a few things… yeah, but listen, it’s still true…those six guys, they heard wicked sound out there…they heard sound you just plain won’t believe.” In those examples, we clearly observed how the author uses his peculiar structure to reveal the necessity to season war stories to transform them from their raw and dreadful state, for the sake of his hearers. Once again we see that due to the horrendous contents of war, O’Brien organizes his story to display that war stories seem to never have closure. O’Brien enhances this point when he says, “But I could tell how desperately Sanders wanted me to believe him, his frustration at not quite getting the details right, not quite pinning down the definitive truth” (292). A little further within the same context, as we’re eagerly waiting for Sanders to reveal the moral to his story, he says, “Hear that quiet, man? There’s your moral” (292). Later on in the story O’Brien himself expresses his own similar frustration. O’Brien says, “If I could ever get the story right…if I could somehow recreate the fatal whiteness of that light… then you would believe the last thing Lemon believed, which for him must have been the final truth”(296). Although the statement “truths are contradictory” is ironic, complex, and an oxymoron, it is clearly illustrated by the following example: After losing his best friend, Rat Kiley was in utter sorrow and despair, and chose to unleash his pain and suffering by making a baby water buffalo his therapeutic punching bag; he tortures it to death without any compassion. Everyone around him knew this was unthinkable and irrational, however, “the old rules are no longer binding, the old truths are no longer true…right spills into wrong…order into chaos… love into hate… ugliness into beauty…law into anarchy… civility into savagery”(295). The author structures this story in an uncommon fashion because actual war is simply not something one experiences every day. War stories are set apart and in their own league. They are complex and mysterious; therefore, they are unorthodox. The core reason for their distinctiveness is because of the psychological trauma that war impacts on surviving witnesses. They are left even without speech at times and struggle to precisely communicate such a terrifying and unfathomable experience. In the story that Mitchell Sanders recounts, when the six soldiers are being confronted by the colonel who demands an explanation, after the terrible experience in the mountains, they only could stare at him with a look that reads,” Everything you can’t ever say”(291).

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