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Dreaming the unspeakable: Hemingway and O'Brien's soldier narratives and the traumatic landscape

Lisa Simone Kingstone, University of Massachusetts Amherst


From Vietnam rap groups in the 70s to the popularity of 12 step programs in the 90s, it has been established that telling one's story to a sympathetic audience can help bring about recovery. However, these groups are closed circles. People who have experienced trauma can communicate with one another because they have a common reference. In their memories are images and visceral experiences they can access to help them understand the experience of fellow survivors. But trauma survivors often feel paralyzed communicating to those who have not been initiated into violence. Because trauma is experienced and remembered differently from the non-traumatic, it must be communicated differently. This study involves one form of that communication: the soldier narrative. By using the combat stories of Ernest Hemingway and Tim O'Brien as an entree, I will explore how these authors created a particular narrative for trauma. Both authors use a style that borrows from the experience of dreaming. This seemingly illogical world of the dream parallels the mind and body's reaction to trauma. By understanding why these authors connected dream narrative to trauma narrative, we can better understand the unique ways combat violates narrative and psyche. Although my analysis will be based on literature, I will be using sociological and psychiatric studies of the military to understand how combat is experienced, particularly through the condition of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and the challenges inherent in communicating it. I will show how the dream in literature is not just a way to perform character analyses, but a viable alternative narrative for conveying the experience of trauma.

Subject Area

American literature|Literature

Recommended Citation

Kingstone, Lisa Simone, "Dreaming the unspeakable: Hemingway and O'Brien's soldier narratives and the traumatic landscape" (1999). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9932322.