The Things They Carried Point Of View

Instructor: Melissa Rohen

Melissa has taught college English and has a master's degree in English and Composition.

Storytellers and authors can use multiple points of views to bring the story to life and engage their readers. In this lesson, we will be exploring points of view by looking at how Tim O'Brien used them in his book 'The Things They Carried.'

Point of View in The Things They Carried

In this lesson, we will be exploring the concept of Point of View using The Things They Carried. However, let's review what this book is and what the stories are about.

The Things They Carried: A (very brief) Review

Tim O'Brien's book is a collection of short stories that are connected in a web of narrative experiences all centered on the Vietnam War. The stories follow a group of men in the Alpha Company as they march, fight, laugh, cry, and die together. We get to experience the feelings of war - the fear, the sadness, the courageous joy, the loneliness, and the devastation through distinctly different characters and perspectives. The title of the novel is a play on words - each story discusses something they carry. This can be an actual, physical object, but it is also an emotion - such as guilt, fear, or sorrow.

So...What do we mean by 'Point of View?'

Point of view is how the author uses narration in order to get us to see, hear, or otherwise experience what is going on in the story. It is, in other words, the perspective of whoever is telling the story.

There are three main types of point of view: first person, second person, and third person.

First person point of view tells the story to us from a single narrator's perspective. It uses words like, 'I felt…' or 'I saw…' or 'I think…'

Second person point of view is interesting because it puts the reader into the position of a character. It uses phrases like 'you feel... ' or 'you saw…' or 'you think….'

Third person point of view is perhaps the most common point of view. It has the narrator essentially telling us what is happening. It uses phrases like 'she felt…' or 'he saw…' or 'they think.'

These different types of each point of view can also be inclusive of limited and omnipresent, or peripheral and central tendencies and we find some of them in the book. Let's take a look at how O'Brien uses them in his collection of stories.

Third Person

The book starts and ends being told in the third person point of view from the perspective of a single narrator. Typically, by a character named Tim O'Brien. O'Brien is telling these stories about twenty years after the war ends. As the story begins, we hear about a group of soldiers during a war, by being told about 'them' and what 'they' did. This technique allows us to see the experience of war by hearing about the soldiers' actions and feelings. This creates a sense of distance, as though we are watching, rather than experiencing the story first hand.

First Person: Central

The second story provides a sharp and drastic shift in the point of view from third person to first person - specifically first person central. First person central point of view is when the story is told from the main character's perspective, typically as the story is happening. It brings the reader right into the mind of the narrator by creating a deeper emotional connection to his thoughts and struggles. However, unlike the third person point of view, this technique can be very limiting - especially in this book. We experience this story from Tim O'Brien's perspective again, but instead of talking about the soldier's experiences at a distance, he is having a conversation with an old war buddy, using 'I' and 'we'. This brings us right into the experience of war, but only from O'Brien's personal interpretation.

First Person: Peripheral

The majority of the stories in 'The Things They Carried' are written in first person peripheral point of view. In other words, they are told by secondary or minor characters. This creates a sense of distance or detachment from the stories we read by offering detailed observations, but limits the experience to the perspective of a single character. So we get the see the experiences of war, including stories about O'Brien and what he did (or did not) do, but only through the eyes of the character telling the story. Thus, the stories are skewed by the specific narrator's memories, feelings, and perspectives.

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