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War has often been seen as the domain of men and thus irrelevant to gender analysis, and American writers have frequently examined war according to traditional gender expectations:  that boys become men by going to war and girls become women by building a home.  This course offers an in-depth look at selected American war fiction from the previous 100 years that complicates such expectations. We’ll focus specifically on four main areas:  Ernest Hemingway and World War I, Kurt Vonnegut and World War II, Tim O’Brien and the Vietnam War, and finally, select contemporary writers on 9/11 and the War on Terror. We’ll examine these writers in their historical and cultural contexts as we explore their depictions of gender relations, imagined domestic spaces in wartime, and the representability of trauma.  In other words, we’ll look at how they mingle the front lines with the home front, the traditionally masculine with the traditionally feminine.  We’ll focus as well on debates about the limits of language; definitions of courage and cowardice; PTSD and the lingering effects of war trauma; and how best to memorialize war.


  • Ernest Hemingway:
    • In Our Time
    • The Sun Also Rises
    • A Farewell to Arms
  • Kurt Vonnegut:
    • Mother Night
    • Cat’s Cradle
    • Slaughterhouse-Five
  • Tim O’Brien:
    • Going After Cacciato
    • The Things They Carried
    • In the Lake of the Woods
  • 9/11 Literature:
    • Jonathan Safran Foer, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
    • Laila Halaby, Once in a Promised Land
    • Jess Walter, The Zero

Students completing the course should:

  • Gain a broad understanding of the topics, themes, and literary techniques associated with American war literature over the past 100 years
  • Develop skills to analyze complex language and to interpret the significance of both literary and critical texts
  • Gain experience in writing well-organized and sophisticated arguments in clear prose that integrate literary and cultural criticism into their own writing

Fall 2021

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