International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies

Stories that Transform Trauma

Posted 1 January 2008 in StressPoints by ISTSS

In The Things They Carried, Vietnam veteran and writer Tim O’Brien offers insights into trauma, its lingering effects and its interplay with the creative process. Writing prose with the flow and power of pure poetry, O’Brien demonstrates that it is precisely by disjointing the standard dramatic unities of time, setting and action that trauma can inform story telling and stories can transform trauma.

Forty-three years old, and the war occurred half a lifetime ago, and yet the remembering makes it now. And sometimes remembering will lead to a story, which makes it forever. That’s what stories are for. Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can’t remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story.

Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried, 1990. Penguin Books, New York, p 40.