Academic journal article Antipodes

Returned Soldiers in Owls Do Cry, A State of Siege, and the Carpathians: Janet Frame's Subversive Representations

Academic journal article Antipodes

Returned Soldiers in Owls Do Cry, A State of Siege, and the Carpathians: Janet Frame's Subversive Representations

Article excerpt

Yet from the way people talked i knew the War wasn't a place like San Francisco or Honolulu, it was something which moved like an iceberg or a cloud; it was invisible, not moving in the same direction, like a river err keeping the same shape like a train on the railway line, but always changing, perhaps growing arms and legs and a face then losing them or having them blotted out; perhaps putting down a root into the garden or the road or into «'ater-the seas, rivers, and staying there, growing tall, blossoming, then withering; blown here and there by the wind; entering people, becoming people, stealing from them, adding to them, changing the shape of their lives: that was the War. (Frame, Towards 76)

RETURNED SOLDIERS AND VICTIMS OF WAR APPEAR IN ALL OF JANET FRAME'S LONGER fictional works. War, and themes relating to war in Frame's fiction, has been discussed by several critics, including Patrick Evans (see, for example, "'They Kill on Wednesdays': Janet Frame, Modernity and the Flolocaust"); however, the pervasiveness of soldier characters in Frame's fiction has not previously been addressed. Frame's writing is haunted by the emotional debris of war, often personified by a character whose postwar life is an epilogue to his war past-and in writing her soldier characters in such a fashion, Frame is, at some points tacitly, at others overtly, writing against the glorification of war and its associated mix of sentimental and heroic masculinity. In a reading of three of these novels, this article discusses some of Frame's returned soldier characters, explores how these soldiers are represented, and addresses their significance in her writing. Owls Do Cry (1957), A State of Siege (1966), and The Carpathians (1988) present the stories of soldiers who have experienced combat in either the First or the Second World War. Unlike in some of Frame's other novels, which have the returned soldier as a central character (see, for example, Intensive Care [1970]), the soldiers I discuss in this article are comparatively minor characters; my contention is, however, that the presence of the soldiers highlights Frame's ongoing, underlying concern to problematize the role of war in New Zealand's public memory and private lives. In the novels addressed, particularly The Carpathians, the soldier character is situated in the position of victim, even outcast, a position typically occupied in Frame's fiction by characters who live liminal existences that challenge dominant gender roles and class expectations. 1 Such positioning of these characters suggests that Frame regards the experience of combat as one that isolates the soldier when he returns, rather than one that inspires in him a sense of comradeship and national pride.

My epigraph, from Frame's novella Towards Another Summer (written in 1963, but published posthumously in 2007), expresses how Grace, the protagonist, perceived "the War" (the First World War) as a child and suggests the great resonance of the experience of that war in New Zealand national and cultural identity. Jock Phillips writes that in the decades following the First World War,

people continued to regard their soldiers as heroes, whose triumphant manhood was seen as proving New Zealand's very nationhood. Instead of undermining the role of war in defining male achievement, the Great War established the soldier as the shining personification of the New Zealand male, and indeed of New Zealand itself. (A Man's Country 163)

The Second World War served to perpetuate this mythology; once again, men drew from the image of the soldier "a definition of the New Zealand male" (198). The mythologizing of the soldier's experience of the mystique and excitation of war is a common theme in Frame's fiction; her representations, however, ambivalent in their almost invariably ironic representation of the ceremony of war commemoration, problematize this dominant ideology.

Phillips suggests elsewhere that while the story of the First World War and its strong resonance in many nations' public memories "is now a much-trod, if contested, territory," in his view, "the application of these issues to New Zealand" is new ("The Quiet" 231). …

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