Literary perspective

The short story “How to Tell a True War Story” by Tim O’Brien is a postmodernist literary work. One of the characteristics of postmodernism is fragmentation, a feature that is also found in O’Brien’s story. In the narrative, war stories are fragmented by the narrator’s comments and insights on the meaning of a war story. Moreover, the scene of Lemon’s death is fragmented in the narrator’s memory, as he tries to reconstruct it and understa…


Works in the same genre or with the same theme

In the short story “Chickamauga” by Ambrose Bierce, a child experiences the horrors of war but his innocence makes the experience seem like a childish game. The gruesome images presented in “Chickamauga” are similar to the images witnessed by the narrator in “How to Tell a True War Story” after Lemon’s death.

Ambrose Bierce has also written the short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”, which explores the themes of war and reality versus fantasy. The story focuses on a Southerner who is tricked by a Union soldier and sentenced to death. In “How to Tell a True War Story”, the narrator’s understanding of Lemon’s death could be considered a product of his fantasy, which helps him cope with the tragic event. Similarly, the Southerner’s near-death hallucinations in “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” are a product of his fantasy and a way of dealing with his tragic fate. 

The poem “The Hero” by Siegfried Sasoon also deals with truth versus lies when it comes to war. In the poem, a soldier praises a fallen comrade’s heroic acts when he delivers news of his death to his mother. However, it is later revealed that the dead man was a coward who died because he was trying to get injured so he could be sent home. Just like “How to Tell a True War Story”, the poem shows that civilians might have mistaken ideas about war and might be unable to understand what it is about.…


Works by the same author

Some of the characters that appear in “How to Tell a True War Story” also appear in other stories from the collection The Things They Carried. In the short story “Ambush”, the same narrator is asked by his daughter whether he killed anyone in the war. The narrator lies to her but secretly expresses his hope that his daughter is going to ask him again when she is older. In the story, the narrator recalls killing a young Vietnamese man and has conflicted feelings about the event. 

The narrator also appears in the short story “The Man I Killed”, where he describes in detail the death of a young Vietnamese man he has killed. The narrator is traumatized by the appearance of the dead body and torments himself by imagining the young man’s life. “The Man I Killed” also deals with the trauma of war and explores the theme of guilt. 

You could also look at the short story “The Things They Carried”, which introduces the character of Jimmy Cross, who constantly thinks about the woman he loves. This leads to Cross being distracted and accidentally causing one of his comrades’ death. The narrator and Kiley are also present in this story, which looks at the physical and emotional weight that soldiers carry in the war. …

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