Advanced Essay #4: War Literature

I focused on war literature for this paper. I wanted to explore the different facets of war literature and also the importance of war literature. During the research process I read a couple of interesting articles that really informed and shaped my opinion on the importance of war literature. The peer review process was especially helpful for this essay because I was initially unsure of what I wanted my larger idea to be. It was difficult to find a specific focus for this essay but I am proud of the final result.

Two children stand in front of a tank. The eldest, a girl a of about nine or ten with short black hair, carries her little brother, who cannot be more than three years old, on her back and they both look directly at the camera. They seem to be standing in a hot desert so they both wear loose light clothing. The tank seems to be going the same direction in which they are walking. We can picture this war scene clearly in our minds through this description in words. Even though we can never truly understand what it’s like to be in the midst of a war unless we have actually experienced it, words, stories, and pictures can help us begin to understand. In his essay titled, “The Extremes of Conflict in Literature: Violence, Homicide, and War”, Joseph Carroll says:

Literature depicts such emotions, evokes them, and makes them available to readers, who experience them vicariously.

To help others understand the horrible truth of war, authors like Tim O’Brien, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ernest Hemingway write novels about the subject. Like Carroll says, this literature allows readers to experience emotions that they’d never have the opportunity to experience otherwise. In experiencing those feelings they begin to understand the emotions of those who have been involved in war.  They begin to understand what it is like to know that at any second you could die and they begin to understand what loss of human life really means. The literature of war not only aims to foster understanding of war, it also attempts to argue for peace. Kate Scheel, a professor of English studies writes:

War literature…warns against pursuing armed conflict, exposes its atrocities, and argues for peace. It records the acts of war with as much accuracy as is possible, and it memorializes the dead. It is voyeuristic, exploitative, and sadistic; it is also tender, selfless, and comforting. It is gleeful and angry; inflammatory and cathartic; propagandist, passionate, and clinical. It is funny and sad.

Good war literature forces us to experience the emotion of war and inspires us to believe that there are other options. Good war literature exposes the truth and explains to us why it is necessary to find alternatives to violence. It reveals the atrocities that occur during war and it reminds us why human life is something to be valued and cherished.

War literature creates a complex relationship between author and reader. Because of the subject readers expect a certain degree of truthfulness in war literature. In this case we expect truthfulness to mean reality; we expect that everything that the author writes actually happened. As readers we expect honesty and loyalty. In The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien, we are led to believe that the story and all the characters are real but halfway through the book O’Brien reveals that all the stories and characters are fictitious. Through that experience we learn that truthfulness doesn’t have to mean reality. O’Brien states:

A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.

Meaning that even though something doesn’t actually happen it doesn’t mean it’s not true. What is more important when it comes to the truth is the emotion and sentiment behind it. So, even though we feel betrayed when we learn that the events in The Things They Carried did not actually happen our relationship with the author eventually emerges stronger at the end of the book when we come to the realization that when it comes to truth we need to look beyond the surface, look past the superficial details, and examine the things that really matter. War literature reminds us that life, death, and emotion are more important than small, insignificant details.

War literature is necessary. Not only because it helps civilians understand war but also because it helps soldiers deal with their experiences. Soldiers need to be able to express themselves somehow and they need to be able to write the truth of what they experience. Soldiers need to know that somebody cares enough to read their stories and maybe even take action. War literature is one of the most important methods for understanding war and violence. Candid accounts of what really happens during war through novels explain exactly what happens during war and also deliver these explanations in a medium that is accessible and interesting to most people. War literature needs to be something that everybody is familiar with. It’s easy to ignore violence and human weakness. We need war literature to remind us of all the problems in the world. We need it to inspire us to action and to hold us accountable for the needless loss of life that war brings. War literature is essential to any push for anti war mentality.  It is the proof that war is evil. If we ever want to live in a society that does not depend of war, militarism, and violence as solutions we must ensure that everyone reads and understands war literature so they understand the truth of war.

Scheel, Kate. "Violence and the Literature of War." N.p., Spring 2004. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.

Carroll, Joseph. "The Extremes of Conflict in Literature: Violence, Homicide, and War." The Extremes of Conflict in Literature: Violence, Homicide, and War. N.p., 22 Mar. 2012. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.

O'Brien, Tim. The Things They Carried: A Work of Fiction. New York: Broadway, 1998. Print.