Good Form by Tim O’Brien
In Good Form by Tim O’Brien we have the theme of honesty, writing, responsibility, acceptance and ego. Taken from his The Things They Carried Collection the story is narrated by O’Brien himself and after reading the story the reader realises that O’Brien may be exploring the theme of honesty. O’Brien admits that he has not killed a man while on duty in Vietnam. This is in contrast to two other stories O’Brien has told. It is as though for writing effect and a sense of responsibility O’Brien claims the death of the man. Though some readers might scorn O’Brien for his lies it might be important to remember he was still present for the killings. He may not have necessarily pulled the trigger but he was there and saw the after effects of the man’s death. He felt for the man regardless of who killed him. At some stage in the story the reader suspects that O’Brien is attempting to boost his own ego. To be like the men in the platoon.
There is however one thing that sticks out and that is the title of the story. Was O’Brien writing and claiming the man’s death in order to write good form. To boost his own ego. He does go into the feeling of someone who has killed a man but in reality we now know that this is a lie. Is there some insecurity in O’Brien that wants him to be like the other men in his platoon? They too may have killed and O’Brien wants to feel as comfortable as they do. For the killing to rub off their backs like water. It is difficult to say as O’Brien does not really give an insight into how he is thinking in the story. He wishes for his daughter to know he killed someone but this could be based on pure ego.
There may also be some symbolism in the story which might be important. O’Brien could look at the man’s death as a ritual to acceptance from his fellow soldiers. That in fact they might trust him now that he has killed someone. The fact that O’Brien was present for the man’s death suggests that this is good enough for O’Brien to claim the man’s death as his own. Which may leave some readers confused. Being present for a man’s death and actually killing him are two separate things. O’Brien never pulled the trigger or launched the grenade that killed the man. Kiowa was beside him throughout the altercation. Mind he was asleep. So O’Brien has no witnesses to stay he didn’t kill the man. By telling his daughter that he did kill a man, O’Brien might feel as though this provides him with a suitable war story. To again bolster his ego.
The end of the story is interesting as O’Brien is in no doubts that he will not tell the truth. He will continue with his lie for the foreseeable future. Even after the passing of twenty three years. His main goal is to persuade his daughter that he did kill a man. Though should she read The Things They Carried she will see that her father lied? Something which may provide relief to the daughter but also a degree of confusion. O’Brien himself knows how he is going to answer and he suggests he will answer ‘honestly’ and tell his daughter he did kill a man. This may be significant as it leaves the reader wondering as to whether they can trust O’Brien. If he has lied about killing a man. What else may he have lied about? War is a torturous experience and it can bring the worst out in an individual. In O’Brien’s case that is the lie he is prepared to tell his daughter in order to write something more captivating. One thing on O’Brien’s side is the fact he has no witnesses to killing the man. He has to be believed but the reader knows better and remains disappointed not because O’Brien didn’t kill a man but because he lied about it. The only saving grace for O’Brien is the fact he was twenty and possibly still impressionable around his peers. It is also noticeable that the writing of the story takes precedence over the truth of the stories in the collection.