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Antiheroes in the "Battle of the Sexes": The Anti-heroic Mode and a Shift in the Meaning of Hegemonic Masculinity in World War I Fiction

Chartudomdej, Sani. Antiheroes in the "Battle of the Sexes": The Anti-Heroic Mode and a Shift in the Meaning of Hegemonic Masculinity in World War I Fiction. 2017. University of Washington, PhD dissertation.

This dissertation explores the connection between anti-heroism and an important change in the meaning of hegemonic masculinity in World War I fiction. Its main goal is to illustrate that the anti-heroic mode, which became widespread in the period during and after the war, is a type of adaptation literature underwent in response to this transformative historical event. The dissertation argues that the change from the heroic to the anti-heroic mode was heavily influenced by post-war disillusionment, which entailed a reevaluation of traditional value systems, including gender roles and expectations. By investigating selected works written by male and female authors, both British and American, through the lens of Sandra Gilbert and Susan Gubar, this dissertation affirms that the anti-heroic mode marks a remarkable cross not only between the traditional hero and the radical antihero, but also between the hero and heroine themselves. Using Gilbert and Gubar's framework, this dissertation validates that literary anti-heroism was a product of what is called the "sexual battles," which suggests the struggle for power in literary space that male and female authors of the war period experienced. In such a battle, the heroic mode gave way to the anti-heroic, resulting in male protagonists becoming morally lax, making it increasingly difficult to differentiate between the virtuous and the villainous. Also, the hero, in the process of becoming the antihero, undertakes a metaphorical "sexchange," in that he becomes sexually fluid, harboring traits traditionally associated with femininity, such as inactivity, indecision, and passivity. Most importantly, the different ways in which male and female authors treat anti-heroic characters are investigated in order to validate the hypothesis that the Great War affected men and women dissimilarly. While male authors employ anti-heroic characters to portray war anxiety that plagued their manliness, women writers utilize such characters to highlight the increasing sense of confidence and power women obtained through the same war. This whole phenomenon signifies the process of modification that hegemonic masculinity underwent in order to thrive in such a shattering war experience--an experience that emasculated the majority of men, while liberating and empowering a great number of women.

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