REPRESENTATIONS OF THE MILITARY IN 20TH CENTURY ETHNIC AMERICAN LITERATURE
Fontenot, Kara Parks
Nunes, Zita C
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In 20th century ethnic American literature, writers deploy representations of the US military to expose the operations of American hegemony, articulate relations of power, reveal how they are maintained, identify contradictions in the rhetoric of American nationalism and imagine not yet manifest possibilities for social justice coalitions that cross racial, ethnic, and national lines. As a national institution controlled by the US government and consuming labor in the form of military service from citizens of all classes, races and ethnicities in ways that reflect existing relations of power in American society at large, the US military presents a unique and powerful site for articulation of relationships between nation, race, and class. As evidence, this dissertation explores six American novels, all published in the 20th century and taking as their subject matter US military involvement in declared and undeclared military conflicts of that era. Close readings of these novels bring our attention to three specific examples of political projects for which representations of the US military in literature have been deployed: to question constructions of American nationalism by highlighting contradictions and inconsistencies, to consider the military’s institutionalized labor practices in order to explore relationships between race and class as well as imagine means of struggling for social justice, and to critique US foreign policy and military operations overseas. These writers individually and collectively refuse to examine race and/or ethnicity in isolation but instead consider these aspects of subjectivity in the context of national identity, class relations, immigration, globalization, and other social forces. While the relationship between ethnicity and military service has been addressed in other disciplines, such as history, political science, and social science, I argue that literature is a medium especially well-suited for this exploration as it not only allows for the articulation of existing social relations but also for the imagination of not yet manifest possibilities for social justice coalitions that cross racial, ethnic, and national lines.