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


  • Anouk Aerni University of Basel




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


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.

Author Biography

Anouk Aerni, University of Basel

Anouk Aerni completed her MA in Literary Studies at the University of Basel in 2017 and as recipient of a start-up grant from the Doktoratsprogramm Literaturwissenschaft of the University of Basel, she started working on her PhD thesis on the relationship between humans and nature within American postmodern postwar literature in April 2018. Since September 2018, she has been a member of the eikones Graduate School, where she continues working on her dissertation under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Philipp Schweighauser.




How to Cite

Aerni, Anouk. “A Farewell to Anthropocentrism in American Postbellum Prose: A Reconsideration of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried”. Current Objectives of Postgraduate American Studies, vol. 22, no. 1, June 2021, pp. 102-2, doi:10.5283/copas.344.