Date of Award
Master of Arts
A. Gordon Van Ness, Ph.D.
Robert L. Lynch, Ph.D.
Craig A. Challender, Ph.D
The 'American war novel' is an exceedingly broad genre. If taken at its simplest form, it can encompass titles ranging from James Fenimore Cooper's The Spy to Tom Clancy's latest addition to his Rainbow Six series. Joseph Heller's Catch-22, Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, and Tim O'Brien's Going After Cacciato are novels that very simply could be filed away somewhere in that American war novel ether that exists between a high-school library and an airport bookstore, but that would be a disservice to Heller, Vonnegut, and O'Brien. What sets their novels apart from the general milieu of the American war novel is how each uses narrative structure to explore more deeply the theme of the psychological trauma of war.
This work explores the individually varied ways in which Heller, Vonnegut, and O'Brien respectively employ form and structure in their novels to create new narrative contexts in which to investigate more fully the deepest realities of the individual's combat experience. By manipulating these aspects, they create unique points of view from which to examine the most remote recesses of the individual mind. Specifically, these authors use structure and form to create a place in the mind where objective sensory input and subjective psychological interpretation meet, allowing them access to a part of human existence that is non-linear, absurd and abstract, but simultaneously wholly natural and deeply realistic.
America has been a nation of war since its inception; and, soon after the Revolution, authors began a chronology of attempts at interpreting those armed conflicts that have defined our nation. Since the Revolution, when the country first began crafting its identity, the American war novel has been doing likewise. However, Heller, Vonnegut, and O'Brien significantly advanced the genre not only by depicting battles and questioning the morality of war (as well as its requisite actions), but also by delving into the lasting effects and psychological interiority of the individual's traumatic experience.
Trump, Daniel, "Investigating the Mind with Heller, Vonnegut, and O'Brien: Psychological Trauma and Narrative Structure in the American War Novel" (2009). Theses, Dissertations & Honors Papers. 114.