Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




This dissertation examines the influence of World War I on American literature and its effects on the American tradition of literary realism. It does so through an analysis of five war novels written by four American authors who had participated in the conflict as combatants or volunteers. These works include John Dos Passos' One Man's Initiation--1917 and Three Soldiers, Thomas Boyd's Through the Wheat, William March's Company K, and Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms.

The dissertation explores a development within the sub-genre of war novels from works of "witness and testimony," which were based on the authors' personal experiences in the First World War, to more finely crafted works of fiction, which employed carefully developed characterizations, plots, and themes. Especially with the first of these war novels, those of witness and testimony, a new narrative form was evident. These novels such as Dos Passos' One Man's Initiation--1917 and Boyd's Through the Wheat combined elements of fiction and non-fiction and are near-journalistic in their presentation of events witnessed by the authors during the Great War. Thus, they presage the "non-fictional novel" of the 1960s. With Dos Passos' Three Soldiers and the war novels of March and Hemingway, concern with the novel as art is more evident. The later war novels also employ more complex narrative points of view. This widening of perspective allows a varied and complex presentation of the events of the Great War, but also results in greater ambiguity and irony.

Another area explored in this study is the accuracy of the mimetic re-creation of the Great War's conditions. Especially in the earliest war novels, graphic descriptions of the war's events are often depicted as a means of protest. However, even the later war novelists attempt to portray the war with some degree of verisimilitude, and collectively, these five war novels provide an often minutely accurate re-creation of the First World War. Because of their use of mimesis, their innovative combination of fiction and non-fiction, and their influence on later writers, these war novels represent an important development in twentieth-century American literature.