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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Laura Doyle

Second Advisor

Stephen Clingman

Third Advisor

Sara Lennox

Subject Categories

African American Studies | American Literature | Asian American Studies | Cultural History | Ethnic Studies | Feminist Philosophy | Gender and Sexuality | History of Science, Technology, and Medicine | Military History | Modern Literature | Other Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | Other International and Area Studies | Other Psychology | Performance Studies | Social and Cultural Anthropology | Theory and Philosophy | United States History


This dissertation addresses the need to "world" our literary histories of U.S. war fiction, arguing that a transnational approach to this genre remaps on an enlarged scale the ethical implications of 20th and 21st century war writing. This study turns to representations of the human body to differently apprehend the ethical struggles of war fiction, thereby rethinking psychological and nationalist models of war trauma and developing a new method of reading the literature of war. To lay the ground for this analysis, I argue that the dominance of trauma theory in critical work on U.S. war fiction privileges the "authentic" experience of the white, male American soldier-author, which inadequately accounts for total war's impact on women, ethnic minorities, non-Americans, and non-combatants on all sides of the battle. The literary text, I contend, can restore a view to the diversity of war experiences, and my methodology provides a model for recovering these overlooked perspectives: close-reading characters’ bodily gestures. I develop this method to resituate war as relational, always involving two or more participants who in the local encounter are differently vulnerable to operations of national power. In three sections of paired chapters, this method illuminates the transnational dimensions of canonical war fiction by Ernest Hemingway and Tim O’Brien alongside fiction by authors not as fully associated with the genre: Susan O’Neill, Toni Morrison, Chang-rae Lee, and Jayne Anne Phillips. These authors represent World War I through Vietnam; yet, in order to emphasize my reorientation of trauma theory, the chapters are organized around particular stages of war trauma: the event of war, homecoming from war, and war trauma across generations. By prioritizing war's embodied interactions, this study moves away from trauma theory's grounding in a universal view of the singular subject toward a conception of war trauma as intersubjective and inflected by uneven material realities. In doing so, "Transnational Gestures" contributes a new perspective to current scholarly debates about how American literary studies can intersect postcolonial, world, and empire studies in ways that better attend to complex legacies of global violence and inequality.