How to Tell a True War Story- The Man I Killed (Chapters 7-12)

In the chapter “How to Tell a True War Story”, O’Brien addresses many things. He tells the reader that there is a correct and incorrect way of telling stories. He also says that there is a correct and incorrect way of listening to stories. “And in the end, of course, a true war story is never about war. It’s about sunlight… It’s about sorrow. It’s about sisters who never write back and people who never listen.” This quote really stuck out to me as I was reading it. It really made me think of all the stories I’ve been told over the years. Have I really understood them? Or have I just dismissed them and thought them to be something they’re not? This chapter really impacted me and made me want to really listen and read in between the lines, or more listen in between the things being said , to really understand the story that is being told to me.

“The Sweetheart of Song Tra Bong” is the only story in the book that revolves around a female. But even then, the woman’s sensibility remained a mystery. I think Tim O’Brien meant to put this story in the book to show that the war not only affects men, but it affects women in the same way as well. He showed that women, too, can be driven mad. In the beginning of the story, she was recognizable to all of the soldiers and the reader. She was a normal American woman who wanted a family and a house. The story of her mutating into a killer mirrors that of all the soldiers of the Vietnam War. I think that O’Brien wanted all of his readers to see what the war was capable of.

The chapter titled “The Man I Killed” was a very important one. I think the ending of the chapter when Tim won’t respond to Kiowa shows that there is always a limit to a friendship, and being in a war could make some of those limits be displayed. Another thing that stood out to me in this chapter was when O’Brien mentioned that by the dead man’s face there was a butterfly fluttering around. It showed to me that even though they were in a very gruesome war, they still couldn’t escape the beauty and grace that Vietnam had. Overall, these chapters illuminated the war in many different ways.


  1. Fragmentation Grenade- A grenade with a heavy metal casing that shatters, on exploding, into fragments that travel at high speed and with great force.
  2. Acquiescence- Such neglect to take legal proceedings for such a long time as to imply the abandonment of a right.
  3. Bandoliers- A broad belt worn over the shoulder by soldiers and having a number of small loops or pockets, for holding cartridges.
  4. Intransitive- Denoting a verb when it does not require a direct object.
  5. Amortizing- To liquidate or extinguish, especially by periodic payments to the creditor.
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