Spin by Tim O’Brien
In Spin by Tim O’Brien we have the theme of conflict, memories, acceptance and letting go. Taken from his The Things They Carried collection the story is narrated in the first person by O’Brien (the character) and from the beginning of the story the reader realises that O’Brien (the writer) is exploring the theme of memories. The reader learns about two incidents that O’Brien can remember from his time in Vietnam. The first being Azar giving some chocolate to a young Vietnamese boy who had a plastic leg and the second being Mitchell Sanders picking lice off his body and putting it in an envelope to send to his draft board in Ohio. Both of these stories are significant in their own right as they serve to highlight a different side to war. They are happy memories for O’Brien which may be important as O’Brien appears to be highlighting to the reader that not everything that happened in Vietnam leaves a person with bad memories or negative impressions. Even through times of hardship (which the war would have been), people can still perform kind or humorous acts. However it is important for the reader to remember that there are other memories from the war, later in the story, that are less pleasant for O’Brien and it is these memories that appear to cause conflict within O’Brien.
The title of the story is also interesting as the word spin is often used to suggest a person’s (usually the writer’s or storyteller’s) version of a story. By adding their own ‘spin’ to a story the writer is either including or excluding parts of the story in order to lead the reader in a certain direction. It is possible that by associating the memories in the story to O’Brien (the character and no one else), O’Brien (the writer) may be suggesting that every soldier who fought in Vietnam will have their own different memories or their own different ‘spin’ on what happened in Vietnam. The style the story is written in (fragmented) may also be important as it mirrors the fragmented memory that O’Brien has of his time in Vietnam.
By introducing Kathleen into the story O’Brien also succeeds in exploring the theme or idea of letting go (or forgetting). Kathleen suggests that O’Brien should forget about the war and write a story ‘about a little girl who finds a million dollars and spends it all on a Shetland pony.’ This line is significant as it not only suggests that O’Brien should forget about the war or let go of it but it also serves to highlight a naivety within Kathleen. It is possible that O’Brien (the writer) is suggesting that those who are younger or those who have not fought in the war, may not necessarily know how difficult it is to let go. Kathleen does after all describe her father’s preoccupation with the war as an obsession while in fact it may be a case (due to the hardships incurred) that O’Brien is still rooted to the past. There is a sense of unresolved internal conflict within O’Brien.
O’Brien (the writer) further explores the idea or theme of conflict later in the story. O’Brien has difficulty with accepting Curt Lemon’s death and in the closing section of the story the reader learns of O’Brien’s memory of a ‘slim, dead, dainty young man of about twenty.’ This memory is important as O’Brien may be remembering someone that he has killed and is unable to forget, which leads to further conflict within O’Brien.
The games of checkers that Norman Bowker and Henry Dobbins play may also be significant. It is through O’Brien watching his fellow soldiers play the game that O’Brien achieves a level of reassurance which appears to be brought on by the fact that the game involves rules. Unlike the war (or memories) which can be chaotic, the game of checkers has a structure or follows a clearly defined path. O’Brien telling the reader that ‘you knew were you stood. You knew the score. The pieces were out on the board, the enemy was visible, you could watch the tactics unfolding into larger strategies. There was a winner and a loser.’
There is also a sense that by telling his story and sharing his memories, O’Brien is in some way trying to accept his past. Though he knows he will never forget his memories from the war, it would appear that by sharing his memories and writing them down (through the act of storytelling), O’Brien is attempting to accept what happened during his time in Vietnam. If anything O’Brien may be using the act of storytelling as a healing or cleansing device. It is also possible that O’Brien is using the act of storytelling to help not only himself, but to also help others understand what happens a person when they fight in a war. It is also interesting that at the end of the story O’Brien tells the reader that ‘that’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future.’ This line is significant as again it is possible that O’Brien is suggesting that the act of storytelling helps a person understand the past, which is inevitably linked to the future.