A Farewell to Anthropocentrism in American Postbellum Prose: A Reconsideration of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried

Anouk Aerni


This article is driven by the urgency of the current ecological situation and humanity’s role in its development. It explores the ways in which nature, humanity, and the relationship between the two are negotiated in Tim O’Brien’s collection of short stories The Things They Carried (1990). Close readings of key passages show that through use of anthropomorphisms nature is portrayed as active rather than passive, and that the soldiers are, on the one hand, alienated and removed from US society and, on the other, embedded within nature. As a result, the human-nature dualism is exposed as a reductive, hierarchical, and separatist approach to a multifaceted, complex relation between interacting, equally valuable entities. The analysis of prevalent themes and devices—including anthropomorphisms, temporal non-linearity, decentering and fragmentation of the individual, and the omnipresence of death as well as the narrator’s preoccupation with mortality—provides a blueprint for an ecocritical reading of postwar literature. This approach values nature in itself and generates an understanding of the ways in which the anthropocentric worldview prevalent in the Western world encourages a misinformed and harmful attitude towards nature.


Ecocriticism; Anthropocentrism; Postmodernism; Postbellum; Tim O’Brien; Vietnam War

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DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.5283/copas.344


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