Date of this Version
Cheatham, Erin E. "'The World Broke In Two': The Gendered Experience of Trauma and Fractured Civilian Identity in Post-World War I Literature." MA thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln, 2016. Web.
This thesis examines the complexities of civilian identity and the crisis of gender in twentieth century fiction produced after World War I. Of central concern are four novels written by prominent women authors, novels that deal with themes of trauma, violence, and shifting gender roles in a post-war society: Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier, Willa Cather’s The Professor’s House, and Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and Jacob’s Room. Although these novels do not directly portray the battlefield experiences of war, I argue that, at their core, they are “war novels” in the fullest sense, concerned with the aftereffects of a war that shattered civilian identity and broke worlds in two. I situate my argument around Cather’s famous assertion that “The world broke in two in 1922, or thereabouts,” included in the preface to her 1922 collection of short stories, Not Under Forty. Cather’s assertion echoes a similar statement by Virginia Woolf, imploring that “on or about December 1910, human character changed,” made in the same year. These two statements encompass the attitudes of a generation of writers uniquely attuned to the changing social and political climate in which they were producing some of the most important literature of their time. The four novels I explore here represent unique examples of the capabilities of modernist narrative techniques and language. These narratives set up a dichotomy between genders, exploring how the war caused a rift in traditional gender roles that eventually lead to a “crisis of gender.” Ultimately, these novels question the illusion of wholeness that soldiers were expected to portray after returning from a war that split their world in two, and forever fractured the idea of civilian and domestic life.
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