Drawing yet deviating from the author’s service in the Vietnam War, Tim O’Brien’s novel The Things They Carried depicts the trauma and moral vacancy engendered by the combatant experience. Throughout the text, O’Brien presents a semi-fictionalized account of his time in the war, employing metafictional and metanarrative elements that comment on the function of fictional storytelling in regard to narrating personal experiences. This thesis examines how O’Brien’s novel explicitly acknowledges its own fictionality through meta structures and, in turn, how the novel’s self-awareness reveals storytelling’s capacity to provide order to traumatic memories. Building upon literary trauma theory and previous research on the manifestations of psychological trauma, this thesis argues that fictional narratives like The Things They Carried can give shape to trauma and allow individuals to reclaim ownership over it. Furthermore, this project analyzes the concept of “truth” explored within The Things They Carried, discussing how fiction conveys individual and subjective perceptions of authorial experience, as opposed to objective and factual representations. This project also explores audiences’ responsibility as empathic listeners for trauma narratives, further analyzing O’Brien’s novel and consulting contemporary scholarship in the field of veteran studies. Finally, through its examination of narrative and trauma, this project proposes the need for further research and scholarly discussion on both the construction of posttraumatic identity and stories’ roles within such construction.

Semester/Year of Award

Fall 2022


Bill Mullen

Mentor Department Affiliation


Access Options

Restricted Access Thesis

Document Type

Bachelor Thesis

Degree Name

Honors Scholars

Degree Level