Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This dissertation defines a new character trope in contemporary Anglo-American war narratives that challenges the primacy of a trope long associated with the genre: the “Trauma Hero.” Existing scholarship portrays the Trauma Hero as a recurring figure whose function is to establish and uphold a cultural barrier between civilians and members of the military, preventing effective communication about trauma and other experiences of war. The dissertation intervenes in existing scholarship by identifying major characters in three influential American war novels (Going After Cacciato by Tim O’Brien, Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain) as representative of a new trope—the “Fool”—that undermines the communication barriers reinforced by the Trauma Hero. Unlike the Trauma Hero, the Fool has not been traumatized by warfare, yet they still impinge upon the cultural discourse between civilians and enlisted personnel. Additionally, the Fool’s willingness to share their knowledge allows them to subvert the Trauma Hero’s authority over war narratives and the standing assumptions over who has the “right” to tell a war story.
Where war narratives—and the Trauma Hero—typically rely on or appropriate realistic representations of warfare, the Fool problematizes a given text’s relationship to realism by introducing unrealistic elements as aspects necessary to their own existence. With the Fool present, a narrative becomes speculative, and speculative fiction introduces a range of additional structural concerns that further reduce the impact of the Trauma Hero while simultaneously elevating characteristics found in the Fool. With war narratives spreading to other forms of media—specifically videogames—more war narratives are taking on speculative plotlines than realistic ones. In the speculative fiction of many of the most popular war videogames like the Call of Duty series, the Fool reemerges as the central figure, supplanting the Trauma Hero entirely. Here, the Fool and the player are unified, with the Fool contributing to a narrative that privileges a dismissal of war narratives’ most salient aspects in favor of a crass idealization of the military and a subtle, but pervasive, militarization of the player.
Swirsky, Alan R., "Fools of War: The Trope of the Fool in Contemporary American War Narratives." Dissertation, Georgia State University, 2023.
File Upload Confirmation
Available for download on Sunday, July 20, 2025