British Writing Section A

Introduction

In both world wars, modern technological warfare meant technology trumped individual heroic action in battle. Unlike previous wars, soldiers struggled to exert notions of conventional masculinity such as bravery and individual heroism. Mass casualties due to modern methods of war such as trench warfare and shelling meant there was a sense of anonymity amongst soldiers. Some critics argue that modernity also brought a sense of anonymity to modern, urban life as there was a declining sense of community in increasingly populated cities. Furthermore, there was the idea that 'the war touched everybody' because of factors such as conscription, rationing, death of relative or even death in battle. This idea was even more prevalent during World War Two due to the devastating effects of The Blitz. It could be argued that the spy thriller, the gothic and the short story are also useful literary genres used to represent or respond to the experience of war.

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John Buchannan in 'The Thirty-Nine Steps' (1915) uses the spy thriller genre to respond to the experience of the First World War. The novel was extremely popular amongst soldiers during the First World War due to form and plot. Formally, the episodic plot and short, self-contained chapters make the novel accessible and suitable to soldiers as they could pick up and put it down as and when fighting ceased or commenced. Furthermore, the themes of adventure and individual heroic action restore this to the soldiers deprived of this in war. Buchannan arguably praises hyper masculinity through the protagonist Hannay, a strong, fit and active man who is able to withstand harsh conditions. It could be argued that this is perhaps a response to fears of national degeneration, the government were concerned about the health of the nation. Many thought that modernity, specifically industrialisation and urbanisation, meant there were less physically fit men working in the countryside. Furthermore, middle class city dwellers were becoming increasingly occupied with intellectual as opposed to physical activity. In the novel, this is exactly what Hannay, an active man of the Empire, gets dreadfully bored by. Overall, Buchannan uses the spy thriller genre to respond to the experience of the First World War.

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Graham Greene similarly utilises the spy thriller genre in his novel 'The Ministry of Fear' (1943) but in this instance to represent the experience of the Second World War on the home-front. Greene ditches the hypermasculine protagonist seen in Hannay in 'The Thirty-Nine Steps' (1915) and instead adopts Arthur - a weaker, more problematic, intellectual character. This arguably perputates the idea that everyone was under threat during the Second World War no matter how ordinary or unphysically fit you were. This was because of conscription as well as the threat of homes and business being bombed in London and other cities during The Blitz. Furthermore, the spy thriller genre is inherently reliant on the idea of potential threat. In the novel, this is the private threat to Arthur of being murdered by the conspirators and the public threat to the nation. This reflects the realities of war time Britain - the private threat to individual soldiers/city dwellers and the public threat to the nation of a German defeat. Formally, the limited narrative only tells the reader what the protagonist knows which creates a sense of disorientation. This reflects the disorientated and incomprehensible reality that many felt during the war years. Greene effectively utilises the spy thriller genre to represent the experience of the Second World War.

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Greene also utilises elements of the gothic to represent the experience of the Second World War on the homefront. In the novel, Arthur notices the bus he is on takes a different route in the aftermath of the previous nights bombings. The London landscape changed over night and this was a regular occurence during The Blitz. This is arguably an example of the uncanny- as Arthur finds unfamiliar in the familiar.

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Finally, Elizabeth Bowen in 'The Demon Lover' (1945) arguably utilises the short story to represent the experience of both the First and Second World War. Formally, the short, fragmented and incomplete narrative arguably reflects the disorientating and incomprehensible realities of war time Britain. Additonally, the demon antagonist arguably represents the trauma of the First World War returning once more in the Second World War

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Conclusion

In conclusion, the spy thriller, gothic and the short story are all useful literary genres used to represent or respond to the experience of war. Buchannan uses the spy thriller to respond to experience of the First World War. He restores a sense of individual heroism and adventure to soldiers, praises hypermasculinity to address fears of national degeneration in a formally suitable novel for the nature of life in the trenches. Greene utilises the same genre to represent the experience of World War Two on the home front by perpetuating the idea that everyone is under threat, even from the 'safety' of their own homes. He also utilises elements of the gothic such as the uncanny to represent the changing landscape of London during The Blitz. Bowen uses the short story to represent the traumatic and incomprehensible reality of both the First and the Second World Wars.

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