This study guide will help you analyze the short story “Ambush” by Tim O'Brien. You can also find a summary of the text, as well as inspiration for interpreting it.

Presentation of the text

Title: “Ambush” (1990)
Author: Tim O'Brien
Genre: Short story

Tim O'Brien is an American novelist and short-story writer born in 1946. Between 1967-1970, he served as a sergeant during the Vietnam War, and many of his works are war stories and memoirs. He has received several awards for his literary works. The story “Ambush” is taken from the collection of linked short stories “The Things They Carried”, based on his experiences as a soldier, blending fiction and non-fiction. O'Brien said that one of the reasons he wrote this book was to help the people in his hometown have a better understanding of the Vietnam War.


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War and its consequences

In the short story “Ambush” by Tim O’Brien, war is depicted as a senseless game in which there are no winners. The narrator can be considered a “winner” according to the rules of war, since he has survived and did his duty as a soldier. However, he pays the price by being haunted by memories of his past actions and tormented by his guilty conscience. Furthermore, the narrator finds it difficult to make sense of the event which traumatized him and is unable to decide if his actions were justified or not: “Even now I haven’t finished sorting it out. Sometimes I forgive myself, other times I don’t.” This suggests that soldiers were not supported psychologically during or after the war.


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