The Construction of Female Subjectivity In Selected Mid-Twentieth Century American War Literature

Jacqueline C Grindrod, Fordham University


My dissertation shows certain male-authored World War II novels foregrounding female characters exhibiting changes in attitude and behavior that prefigure Second Wave feminism. In The Naked and the Dead, Norman Mailer's women are victims of patriarchy then permeating American culture. James Jones in From Here to Eternity, John Hersey in The War Lover and Sloan Wilson in The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit created women who can fairly be called proto-feminists. Jones's women overcome social rules limiting their choices, relegating them to strictly defined roles. Army life's oppression of soldiers by corrupt officers parallels the hypocritical system preventing women from fulfilling their potential. Medical industry practices, consumer culture and the prostitution industry's primitive exchanges elaborate gender discrimination and convey changing mores that would eventually engulf the country. Mailer uncovers ugly beliefs about women in contemporary America. Mailer's soldiers remember women they've known in extremely negative ways. Mailer exposed these attitudes using Freudian theories that validated them. Mailer's exposition of contemporary misogyny powerfully contributed to the discourse working to dismantle it. Hersey's Daphne Poole in the middle of WW II negotiates a second war between two American bomber pilots in England. Her effort to escape being their pawn forms the crux of the plot and conveys Hersey's anti-war message at a microcosmic human level. Hersey highlights sexual violence against women to set his anti-violence, anti-war message in stark relief. Wilson's postwar marriage shows the wife as the more adventurous of the two spouses. Betsy's leadership qualities may have emasculated the ostensible "hero," but Wilson never diminishes Tom by his wife's success. Betsy's mixture of unconventionality and traditionalism complement Tom's strengths, creating an ideal of modern American marriage. Gray Flannel represents a fitting arc of progress—by the mid-1950s, women's liberation's philosophical and intellectual underpinnings had begun to take shape. This dissertation seeks to understand those maturing rumblings as they emerged in the literature of the time.

Subject Area

Modern literature|Womens studies|American literature

Recommended Citation

Grindrod, Jacqueline C, "The Construction of Female Subjectivity In Selected Mid-Twentieth Century American War Literature" (2013). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3600021.