Academic journal article American Studies

WORLD WAR I IN AMERICAN FICTION: An Anthology of Short Stories

Academic journal article American Studies

WORLD WAR I IN AMERICAN FICTION: An Anthology of Short Stories

Article excerpt

WORLD WAR I IN AMERICAN FICTION: An Anthology of Short Stories. Edited by Scott D. Emmert and Steven Trout. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press. 2014.

Western literature indisputably was altered by the end of the First World War, shifting from the innocence of an earlier era. The Great War and the events that unfolded on the Western front permeated every element of society and inspired writers to define its significance. "'I got some great stories to write when I get back to God's country,'" claims the protagonist of Richard Harding Davis's "The Man Who Had Everything," a story included in a new anthology, edited by Scott D. Emmert and Steven Trout, the first of its category to present American literature reflecting the profound impact of the war. And thousands of stories were written, varying between depictions of the front lines and the war efforts in the homeland. Even through divergent viewpoints of the authors, the collected stories distill a concise message: war taints all aspects of human existence, regardless of gender, age, race or social status.

As the editors indicate, the anthology is a sampling of thousands of stories written during and following the war; the collection aims at "juxtaposing works of high modernism with those cast in earlier literary idioms" (3). Chronologically ordered, the stories progress-sometimes cohesively-from the immediacy of the war to the reflection, often symbolically, on the permanent transformations that ensued. The resulting compilation holds a surprisingly diverse focus. Indirectly, or with purpose, for example, various narratives examine the impact of the war on the earth as a living entity. Texts such as Dorothy Canfield's "The Permissioniare" and Kay Boyle's "Count Lothar's Heart," lend themselves well to what might be called, in contemporary terms, an ecocritical interpretation of war and nature. Others, in particular, James Warner Bellah's "The Great Tradition" and William March's "To the Rear," examine human relationships when exposed to the pressures of the battlefield, with the latter highlighting the loneliness of each soldier. Racial tensions direct several of the narratives, reminding us that the blight of American racism unfailingly persisted even under the banner of war-driven compatriotism. …

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