Tim O’Brien: A Modern Day Washington Irving

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August 21, 2019

BY JIANNA LIN

An overarching theme among many of Washington Irving’s works is that they are stories grounded in reality containing glimpses of fantastic or magical events and innuendos concerning war. This is characteristic of Rip Van Winkle’s magical events and nods to the American Revolutionary War, the Legend of Sleepy Hollow’s magical headless horseman soldier, and the controversy surrounding Washington Irving due to his novel Mahomet and His Successors and American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

These themes are also overarching themes among the works of modern-day writer Tim O’Brien, who is most famous for his work The Things They Carried. This novel, just like many of Washington Irving’s books, consists of a collection of short-stories grounded in reality, concern an American war, and contain fantastic and magical events. In this way, many short stories written by Washington Irving and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried are written about similar events in a similar manner, but during a different historical era and time period. In other words, The Things They Carried is the modern-day version of Washington Irving’s short stories on war.

The topics and manner of writing is the same, but the perspective is new. Consequently, the writing of The Things They Carried is akin to a new person throwing on an old pair of shoes. The shoes are the same, but the person is different. In this light, reading both authors within the same academic semester allows a reader to perceive how the style of Washington Irving’s writing is still appreciated today by a modern audience, and can still be used today to convey powerful commentary in a most delicate manner.

This realization allows readers to hold a much greater appreciation for the impact of Washington Irving on American literature, for it serves as evidence of Irving’s longstanding influence. Reflecting upon these similarities in style, content, topic, and themes between Washinton Irving and Tim O’Brien reveal that the literary mannerisms and themes of Washinton Irving’s short stories live on today in the short stories of The Things They Carried.

There may be no greater illustration of an author’s influence on American literature than the success of a modern-day reincarnation of the author’s work. The Things They Carried and Irving’s short stories are both culminations of the tales of America, proving that modern day events in America and life in America can still be written using the same literary approaches and modes as that of great American writers of the past. Using the same literary mannerisms that were pioneered by Washington Irving to tell stories of America’s past, new American stories can be told.

Accordingly, readers searching for an appreciation of either the history of American literature, how American literature has progressed throughout time, or overarching themes that have remained relevant throughout American history, may find it by reading Washington Irving and Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. Such a reader would benefit from reflecting upon how Irving’s historical literary inventions are utilized by O’Brien to create literature of the modern day.

Jianna Lin is a special guest blogger this week. In Spring 2019, Jianna wrote this blog specifically for the Washington Irving Society page. She submitted the blog as an optional assignment for Dr. Tracy Hoffman’s 2304 American Literature class at Baylor University. This was not a formal paper assignment, but a casual blog response to the reading. Please feel free to leave comments about Jianna’s response here on the website.

Published in: on August 21, 2019 at 12:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

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