Story Telling: The Teller Holds the Truth

After reading The Things We Carried by Tim O’ Brien, we discussed the reality of story telling and I began to think about how interesting the genre of story telling is because of the idea of credibility.  When you listen to a war veteran tell a story, you typically do not jump to conclusions of them lying, or inventing details, but as we saw from Tim O’ Brien, the story truth and the happening truth can really be very different.  We approached the though that story truth is that O’ Brient feels guilty for engaging in warfare, and for the things he did in Vietnam. The happening truth is that he went to war, and was afraid to look, for fear of what he would see.   These ideas are interesting when you think of story telling and how the listener must make a deicsion to believe the teller, even though there is no way of knowing the story is story truth, the way it goes bestin the story, or happening truth.

This idea of story telling can be applied across all war accounts we read throughout the semester. However, I think Ishmael Beah’s use of story telling is used in a much different, but very effective way.  I went to the lecture in which Mr. Beah graced the audience with his glowing white smile and chrasismatic presence masking the scars he has from his life as a child soldier.  What is so shocking to me is that Ishmael Beah experienced a horrifying childhood, received rehabilitation for his psychological needs, grew older, and now he travels around the world telling his story.  At one point in his lecture he said, “It’s not easy, it’s very difficult that everyone knows my story, and that I have to constantly remember it.” This reminded me of Tim O’ Brien’s book and the way he repeats his stories, giving the same details over and over again.  Although Ismael Beah’s purpose is to raise awareness of child soliders and to connect a problem in the far off continent of Africa with people in the United States who can help, and Tim O’Brien’s purpose is coping, and trying to come to grips with the things he did, they both have the same outlet for similar relief.  If their stories are not locked inside of their minds, eating away at their sanity, then the stories must be on their lips so as to relieve the human mind of the stressful stories they possess.

To link this to current affairs in Iraq, I chose to look at one story from a military blog telling a story about a friend who served his country on three seperate occasions. He says that he wants to tell his friend, Jon Stiles’ story because of the magnitude of his patriotism. He writes,

“Jon Stiles was not remarkable in many respects. He looked like a normal Joe. He wasn’t flamboyant, he didn’t cry out for attention, and he wasn’t a seeker of anything except service. He returned to the Army at a reduced rank without complaint. You cannot spot a hero by his looks or hear it in his words. You see it only in his actions. Jon clung to his ideals and values tenaciously, and while he laid his life on freedom’s altar willingly, you can believe that his life was not willingly forfeit. It had to be taken from him. Jon had a lot to live for.”


This account is another example of the role that story telling plays in wartime and in the lives of soldiers.  Although we may not realize it, the narration of this soldier’s death could be ficticious, disreguarding any amount of detials because of the minds ability to repress memories one does not want to cope with.  In this case, the solider wants to commend his friend for his nobility and i think the situation is slightly different: the purpose for telling a story is not to make himself feel better, but to honor his friend and brother.

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