C. Tim O’Brien, “How to Tell a True War Story”

Tim O'Brien

Tim O’Brien served as an infantryman with the US Army in Vietnam.

The story: A modern classic about a Vietnam veteran who tries to describe the truth about war to a civilian audience.

Themes: Veteran anger, difficulty of describing war, attitude toward enemy and foreign noncombatants, war’s violence, the civil-military divide

Characters: An unnamed first-person narrator, an Army Vietnam veteran. Bob “Rat” Kiley, Curt Lemon, and Mitchell Sanders, soldiers in the narrator’s squad. A unnamed woman who attends a reading by the narrator.

Discussion Questions:

  1. What does the narrator mean when he writes, “A true war story is never moral”?
  2. Does the narrator miss being in Vietnam? Why?
  3. Why does the narrator so irritated by the woman “Kindly temperament and humane politics” at the end of the story?

For further exploration, watch this interview with Tim O’Brien:

Find “How to Tell a True War Story” here:

The Things They Carried


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