What Counts As a War Story?

(Roundtable)


American / Cultural Studies and Media Studies

John Casey (University of Illinois at Chicago)

War stories are commonly interpreted as combat narratives. Readers are all familiar with these tales of suffering and heroism by such authors as Stephen Crane, Ernest Hemingway, Norman Mailer, and Tim O’Brien. These stories are important to our understanding of war and its relation to literature, but they encourage us to draw too narrow a boundary to our diagram of what counts as war literature. This roundtable will consider works of fiction by U.S. authors who address the experience of soldiers participating in war who are not directly involved in combat such as truck drivers, cargo pilots, cooks, musicians, clerks, supply officers, and medical personnel. Presentations are also sought that examine the role of gender in narratives of war, stories that challenge our notion that only men are on the firing line. Since the nature of war has changed considerably over time, presentations might also examine the ambiguous boundary between civilians and soldiers in wartime explored in U.S. fiction. Proposals may cover any war or time period in U.S. history and may involve the analysis of plot and characters in visual media such as film and television.


Please craft an abstract for a presentation that will address one aspect of war literature that doesn’t necessarily fit into the paradigm of the traditional combat narrative. Your focus might be on soldiers in non-combat roles or serving during peacetime. You might also examine the changing role of women in war literature and the blurred lines between civilians and soldiers during time of war.