Quotes from The Things They Carried

Tim O'Brien ·  246 pages

Rating: (202.2K votes)


“They carried the sky. The whole atmosphere, they carried it, the humidity, the monsoons, the stink of fungus and decay, all of it, they carried gravity.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“A true war story is never moral. It does not instruct, nor encourage virtue, nor suggest models of proper human behavior, nor restrain men from doing the things men have always done. If a story seems moral, do not believe it. If at the end of a war story you feel uplifted, or if you feel that some small bit of rectitude has been salvaged from the larger waste, then you have been made the victim of a very old and terrible lie. There is no rectitude whatsoever. There is no virtue. As a first rule of thumb, therefore, you can tell a true war story by its absolute and uncompromising allegiance to obscenity and evil.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“But the thing about remembering is that you don't forget.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“The thing about a story is that you dream it as you tell it, hoping that others might then dream along with you, and in this way memory and imagination and language combine to make spirits in the head. There is the illusion of aliveness.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried



“They carried all they could bear, and then some, including a silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“I want you to feel what I felt. I want you to know why story-truth is truer sometimes than happening-truth.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“I survived, but it's not a happy ending.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“War is hell, but that's not the half of it, because war is also mystery and terror and adventure and courage and discovery and holiness and pity and despair and longing and love. War is nasty; war is fun. War is thrilling; war is drudgery. War makes you a man; war makes you dead.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried



“But in a story, which is a kind of dreaming, the dead sometimes smile and sit up and return to the world.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“you're never more alive than when you're almost dead.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“But this too is true: stories can save us.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“It was very sad, he thought. The things men carried inside. The things men did or felt they had to do. ”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“What sticks to memory, often, are those odd little fragments that have no beginning and no end...”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried



“And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That's what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“He wished he could've explained some of this. How he had been braver than he ever thought possible, but how he had not been so brave as he wanted to be. The distinction was important.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“It was my view then, and still is, that you don't make war without knowing why. Knowledge of course, is always imperfect, but it seemed to me that when a nation goes to war it must have reasonable confidence in the justice and imperative of its cause. You can't fix your mistakes. Once people are dead, you can't make them undead.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“...his love was too much for him, he felt paralyzed, he wanted to sleep inside her lungs and breathe her blood and be smothered.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“In any war story, but especially a true one, it's difficult to separate what happened from what seemed to happen. What seems to happen becomes its own happening and has to be told that way. The angles of vision are skewed. When a booby trap explodes, you close your eyes and duck and float outside yourself. .. The pictures get jumbled, you tend to miss a lot. And then afterward, when you go to tell about it, there is always that surreal seemingness, which makes the story seem untrue, but which in fact represents the hard and exact truth as it seemed.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried



“It wasn't a question of deceit. Just the opposite; he wanted to heat up the truth, to make it burn so hot that you would feel exactly what he felt.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“Together we understood what terror was: you're not human anymore. You're a shadow. You slip out of your own skin, like molting, shedding your own history and your own future, leaving behind everything you ever were or wanted to believed in. You know you're about to die. And it's not a movie and you aren't a hero and all you can do is whimper and wait. ”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“you can tell a true war story if it embarrasses you. If you don't care for obscenity, you don't care for the truth; if you don't care for the truth, watch how you vote. Send guys to war, they come home talking dirty. ”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“To generalize about war is like generalizing about peace. Almost everything is true. Almost nothing is true. At its core, perhaps, war is just another name for death, and yet any soldier will tell you, if he tells the truth, that proximity to death brings with it a corresponding proximity to life. After a firefight, there is always the immense pleasure of aliveness. The trees are alive. The grass, the soil—everything. All around you things are purely living, and you among them, and the aliveness makes you tremble. You feel an intense, out-of-the-skin awareness of your living self—your truest self, the human being you want to be and then become by the force of wanting it. In the midst of evil you want to be a good man. You want decency. You want justice and courtesy and human concord, things you never knew you wanted. There is a kind of largeness to it, a kind of godliness. Though it’s odd, you’re never more alive than when you’re almost dead. You recognize what’s valuable. Freshly, as if for the first time, you love what’s best in yourself and in the world, all that might be lost. At the hour of dusk you sit at your foxhole and look out on a wide river turning pinkish red, and at the mountains beyond, and although in the morning you must cross the river and go into the mountains and do terrible things and maybe die, even so, you find yourself studying the fine colors on the river, you feel wonder and awe at the setting of the sun, and you are filled with a hard, aching love for how the world could be and always should be, but now is not.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“Linda was nine then, as I was, but we were in love...it had all the shadings and complexities of mature adult love and maybe more, because there were not yet words for it, and because it was not yet fixed to comparisons or chronologies or the ways by which adults measure such things...I just loved her. Even then, at nine years old, I wanted to live inside her body. I wanted to melt into her bones -- that kind of love.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried



“I was a coward. I went to the war.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“They carried all the emotional baggage of men who might die. Grief, terror, love, longing--these were intangibles, but the intangibles had their own mass and specific gravity, they had tangible weight. They carried shameful memories. They carried the common secret of cowardice.... Men killed, and died, because they were embarrassed not to.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


“You don't know. When I'm out there at night I feel close to my own body, I can feel my blood moving, my skin and fingernails, everything, it's like I'm full of electricity and I'm glowing in the dark - I'm on fire almost - I'm burning away into nothing - but it doesn't matter because I know exactly who I am.”
― Tim O'Brien, quote from The Things They Carried


About the author

Tim O'Brien
Born place: in Minnesota, The United States
Born date October 1, 1946
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