Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Chris Kocela

Second Advisor

Audrey Goodman

Third Advisor

Matthew Roudané


Scholars of the postmodern war narrative have examined the connections between past war representations, which rely heavily on myths of the “ideal soldier,” and their effects on the following generation’s perception of war. It is clear that these depictions inadequately prepare a new soldier due to the fact that each war fought since World War I has differed significantly. My dissertation examines the link between past war representations and soldier expectations, and expands on this phenomenon. I argue that because soldiers are ill prepared, they must quickly create methods to cope with their actual reality, which as I show are also effects of past media.

Each war’s literature has presented its own unique method that characters use to create spaces of agency. Their control over the situation is temporary, and they do not truly gain complete agency, because the characters create coping strategies as a reaction to those same representations that prepared them for the wrong war. Examining novels by Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, Tim O’Brien, Denis Johnson, David Abrams, and Ben Fountain, I trace the media’s influence and consequences through World War II, Vietnam, and the second Iraq War and will map how the novels from each war period share similarities. It is not only these common coping mechanisms the protagonists share, but also at the end of each novels the men never truly gain control over their experiences, due to the fact that the previous representations and perpetuated myths still influence and control their behaviors.