How to Tell a True War Story

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How does O’Brien use a combination of semi-autobiography and narrative technique to explore the concept of history and memory in his short story? In the construction of history, historians often rely on individual and collective memory as well as documented evidence. However, this may be a problem as memory is not static and often varies over time. This concept is explored in Tim O’Brien’s short story, How to Tell a True War Story in which the composer reflects upon his past war days and how these memories and stories affect him today. In this short story, O’Brien switches in between his role as a reflecting soldier and his role as a storyteller to effectively show the fluidity of memory and how it comes to construct the past. As a storyteller, O’Brien reveals he has the power to shape his story by ‘adding or subtracting’ various parts just ‘to get at the real truth’, suggesting that ‘in a true war story nothing is absolutely true’. This is reinforced when he goes on to tell different versions of Curt Lemon’s death where he either died from a ‘rigged 105 round’ or from the sunlight. Both accounts are true. It is clear a landmine blew up Lemon, but from O’Brien’s point of view, it was the sunlight, which ‘pick[ed] him up and lift him into that tree’. Thus, the death of Curt Lemon acts as a symbol that reinforces the difficulty in conveying truthfully what happened in a war story due to volatility of memory as well as varying interpretations of what actually occurred. Hence, the truth is shown to be remarkably elusive. Therefore, the combination of semi-autobiography and narrative techniques explore the concept of history and

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