World Beyond Measure

An Ecological Critique of Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried (1990) and In The Lake of the Woods (1994)

in Critical Survey
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  • 1 University of Hertfordshire
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When questioned by Larry McCaffery in an interview as to why his books were so firmly anchored in nature, Vietnam veteran Tim O’Brien responded, ‘because life is anchored in these things’. The Things They Carried, O’Brien’s fifth book, is certainly no exception to this analysis. O’Brien’s book uncovers the multifarious dimensions to the sheer power and intensity of the bond between humankind and the natural world in the face of the brutal violence of the Vietnam war. It is this elemental relationship that I intend to examine with specific regard to the substantive influence of contemporary environmental theories and green ideas on O’Brien’s understanding of the value of the natural world. In order to examine the texts effectively, I will consider O’Brien’s work in chronological order. In doing so I hope to provide illustration of the continuation and development of the author’s environmental concerns within the framework of his most recent writings. I believe the author’s overarching concern with the intangibility of truth in these novels readily extends itself to his all-embracing manipulation of the symbolic landscape he presents to the reader.


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