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Tim O’Brien Quotes (38 Quotes)


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  • Once someone's dead you can't make them undead.
    (Tim O'Brien, "The Things They Carried")

  • The presence of danger has a way of making you feel fully awake.
    (Tim O'Brien, "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, "The Things They Carried")

  • There was the single abiding certainty that they would never be at a loss for things to carry.
    (Tim O'Brien, "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, "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, "The Things They Carried")

  • They did not submit to the obvious alternative, which was simply to close the eyes and fall. So easy, really. Go limp and tumble to the ground and let the muscles unwind and not speak and not budge until your buddies picked you up and lifted you into the chopper that would roar and dip its nose and carry you off to the world. A mere matter of falling, yet no one ever fell. It was not courage, exactly; the object was not valor. Rather, they were too frightened to be cowards.
    (Tim O'Brien, "The Things They Carried")

  • They sat smoking the dead mans dope until the chopper came
    (Tim O'Brien, "The Things They Carried")

  • They were afraid of dieing, but they were even more afraid to show it.
    (Tim O'Brien, "The Things They Carried")

  • In war you lose your sense of the definite, hence your sense of truth itself, and therefore it's safe to say that in a war story nothing is ever absolutely true.
    (Tim O'Brien, "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, "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, "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, "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, "The Things They Carried")

  • What sticks to memory, often, are those odd little fragments that have no beginning and no end...
    (Tim O'Brien, "The Things They Carried")


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