“I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” opens with a terrifying image of Gorrister hanging upside down with his throat slit. Almost immediately, however, Gorrister returns to the group and the reader understands that the opening image has been created by the supercomputer, AM.
Ted, the narrator, continues to describe the situation: five survivors of a nuclear holocaust have been kept alive and tormented by a sentient supercomputer that has destroyed the rest of humankind. Ted tells the reader that they have lived inside the computer for 109 years.
At the time of the story’s opening, the survivors have not eaten in five days and they decide to journey to the ice caverns. Nimdok, one of the group, is convinced that there are canned goods there. Ted then introduces the rest of the survivors to the reader. Ellen, a black woman, provides sex for the four men. Benny, a brilliant university professor in his previous life, is now an insane, ape-like . . . Read More
The Things They Carried, the collection in which “How to Tell A True War Story” appears, received rave reviews from critics and readers alike when it appeared in 1990. Many of the stories in the collection, including “How To Tell A True War Story,” had previously won awards following publication in periodicals such as Esquire, Ploughshares, and Atlantic Monthly. Indeed, critics such as Robert R. Harris, writing in the New York Times Book Review, called the volume a must-read for anyone interested in the Vietnam War.
The Things They Carried followed O’Brien’s National Book Award for Going After Cacciato, another novel which has as the subject a soldier’s Vietnam War experience. The Things They Carried was also nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critic’s Circle Award. In addition, the book won the Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize, the Melcher Book Award, and the Prix du Meilleur Livre Stranger (The Best . . . Read More
The Reagan Years: 1981-1988
In 1980 Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter for the presidency of the United States. Although the country could not yet know it, this was the year that the Gulf War really began, when Iraq invaded Iran. Because Iran held a group of Americans hostage, the United States initially favored Iraq in the conflict and provided arms to both Iraq and to Saudi Arabia. Throughout the decade, military concerns focused on the Middle East.
At this time, registration for the military draft was reinstated. Although there were some protests against registration, the protests did not come close to the scope of protest mounted against the draft and the Vietnam War in the previous two decades.
During the Reagan years, the president cast the Soviet Union as “The Evil Empire,” and urged Congress to pass funding for his Strategic Defense Initiative, commonly called “Star Wars.” Reagan wanted . . . Read More
Point of View and Narration
One of the most interesting, and perhaps troubling, aspects of the construction of “How to Tell a True War Story” is O’Brien’s choice to create a fictional, first-person narrator who also carries the name “Tim O’Brien.” Although the narrator remains unnamed in this particular story, other stories in the collection clearly identify the narrator by the name Tim. Further, the other stories in the collection also identify the narrator as a forty-three-year-old writer who writes about the Vietnam War, ever more closely identifying the narrator with the author.
On the one hand, this connection is very compelling. Readers are drawn into the story believing that they are reading something that has some basis in the truth of the writer Tim O’Brien. Further, the authorial voice that links the story fragments together sounds like it ought to belong to the . . . Read More
Memory and Reminiscence
Because “How to Tell a True War Story” is written by a Vietnam War veteran, and because Tim O’Brien has chosen to create a narrator with the same name as his own, mosl readers want to believe that the stories O’Brien tells are true and actually happened to him. There are several reasons for this. In the first place, O’Brien’s so-called memoir, If I Die In a Combat Zone, contains many stories thai find Iheir way into his later novels and short fiction. Thus, it is difficult for the reader to sort through what is memory and what is fiction.
There are those, however, who would suggest thai this is one of O’Brien’s points in writing his stories. Although most readers would believe thai their own memories are ‘ ‘true,” this particular story sets out to demonstrate the way that memories are at once true and made up.
Further, as . . . Read More
Slink Harris has a very small role in this story, although he figures in other stories in The Things They Carried.
Dave Jensen is a minor character in this story, a fellow member of Tim’s platoon.
Ral Kiley is another member of Tim’s platoon. The story opens with Tim telling the story of how Rat wrote a letter to the sister of Curt Lemon, one of Ral’s buddies who was killed. The sister never writes back and Rat calls her a “dumb cooze.” A second story involving Rat concerns a “baby VC water buffalo.” The event occurs soon after Curl’s death. The platoon captures the buffalo and takes it with them. However, when il refuses to eat the food Rat offers it, Rat begins shooting the buffalo. The narrator attributes this action to Rat’s grief and anger over the death of his . . . Read More
“How to Tell a True War Story” by Tim O’Brien is not a story in the traditional sense. It does not follow a straight, chronological path from start to finish. Rather, it is a collection of small stories interspersed with instructions about “true” war stories.
The story opens with the words,’ “This is true.” The narrator then goes on to tell the story of his friend Rat Kiley, who writes a letter to the sister of his buddy who had been killed a week earlier. It is a long, heartfelt letter. He waits for two months for a reply to the letter, but the sister never writes back.
The story then shifts to commentary. “A true war story is never moral,” the narrator instructs. The narrator asks the reader to “listen to Rat” as he spews obscenity, as, according to the narrator, a true war story is committed to “obscenity and evil.”
In the next section, the narrator reveals that Curt . . . Read More
Rivera’s “The Harvest” is a brief story, covering in some editions no more than three pages. However, springing up from this spare narrative are the archetypal themes of initiation and search, and one archetypal character, that of the Wise Old Man. These structural patterns are archetypal in the sense that they recur in many different myths and literatures of the world and seem to reflect universal human desires and life processes. Since the most prominent of these themes in “The Harvest” is that of initiation, the story can be classified as an initiation story.
The term “initiation” was originally employed by anthropologists to describe the rituals used in primitive societies to mark the passage from boyhood to manhood. Such rituals might include a period of seclusion, an ordeal involving the endurance of physical pain, or the killing of a wild animal. There may be ceremonies, feasts, and dances, all with the purpose of . . . Read More
Chicano Migrant Workers
Migrant workers are those who are employed on a temporary, often seasonal basis and who come from a community, state, or nation other than where they are temporarily employed. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the majority of migrant farm workers in the United States were recent immigrants from Asia or Europe, but with the growth of the sugar beet, fruit and vegetable, and cotton industries in the early twentieth century, the number of Mexican and Mexican American migrant workers rapidly increased. Each spring they would travel from Texas to the north central, mountain, and Pacific Coast states. At the end of the season, they would return to Mexico or towns on the Mexican border.
Rivera’s parents were part of this migration of Mexican Americans north. He recalled that one of his earliest memories was of waking up in a farm in northern Minnesota where his parents and relatives worked in the beet . . . Read More
In his introduction to “The Harvest,” Julian Olivares quotes from an unpublished manuscript in which Rivera commented on the construction of a short story: “The conflict or problem of each story is what interests us as a story. The more intriguing the conflict, the more the story will interest the reader.” This, says Rivera, is because every reader has a natural desire to find out how the conflict is resolved. In “The Harvest,” the interest is generated by the problem, or mystery, of exactly what Don Trine does when he goes off on his walks. The development of the mystery dictates the structure of the story, which proceeds in alternating sections of narration and dialogue. With each section, as the youngsters continue to speculate about what Trine does, the reader’s interest in the mystery grows. It is only in the last section, which is longer than all the others, that the mystery is . . . Read More