I can make myself feel again (OBrien, p. 180).
And, through story truth, what the story is able to do for OBrien, it becomes able also to do for the reader.
In “The Lives of the Dead,” OBrien further elaborates on his need for stories universally. Through make-believe — imagination, stories, fiction — OBrien finds that he can not only resurrect the dead but also lay a barrier between himself and death. His response to the death of Linda is a retreat into imagination, just as the response of the soldiers of Alpha Company to the corpse of the old man by the pig pen is to engage in an elaborate game of make-believe: “It was more than mockery” (OBrien, p.227). OBriens distress as the bizarre ritual unfolds is related to his inability to participate in the imaginative fiction occurring, through which the other soldiers cope. “It was my fourth day, I hadnt yet developed a sense of humor,” (OBrien, p.226). Similarly, OBrien is able to cope with Linda by engaging in imaginative fiction — her death is mitigated, as are the deaths of Ted Lavender and Curt Lemon through the imaginations and story telling of Alpha Company.
The retreat into imagination helps OBrien to cope in his youth, but by his adulthood that imagination requires further expression. Norman Bowker failed to find that expression — except perhaps in his letter to OBrien — and so, after circling, for a long while, the lake in Iowa — which is also the shit-field in Vietnam — he commits suicide. OBrien, circling both that lake and field, did find an avenue for that expression through the Things They Carried and his other war novels, and so accounts himself better adjusted, even if not perfectly so. Despite all his efforts the need for stories remains, and the author recognizes this, of course: “But this is true too: stories can save us,” (OBrien, p. 225).
1. OBrien, Tim. The Things They Carried. New York: Random House, 1990. Print.
2. SparkNotes Editors. “SparkNote on the Things They.