Date of Award
Submitted to the College of Graduate Studies Bridgewater State University Bridgewater, Massachusetts in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Degree of Master of Arts in English MAY 2019
Master of Arts
“Closer to the Objective”: Following Helen from Troy to Chicago looks at the function of women in war and war-adjacent texts. Women are contextualized against the figure of Helen of Troy, who sets the standard for how women in war narratives have historically been treated in literature in film. The war narrative has existed as long as literature itself as existed, and in the Western canon, storytellers are constantly looking back at the Iliad, which serves as an Ur text in terms of how the war narrative--and in particular, the American war narrative--continues to be told today. Those American-centric war narratives still place the emphasis on male experiences in war, elevating a Soldier-Defender character and his fight against the Enemy-Other. The trends of the war narrative spill over from the genre and into others, making what happens in the war narrative—and more specifically, what happens to women in the war narrative--reflective of almost all American media. So often when women are allowed appearances in these narratives, however, they are made into objects and ghosts.
This thesis is concerned with the appearance of women in war narratives and how those appearances reflect against the actual experiences of women in war. While war narratives largely focus on the psychological impacts of war on men, about their masculinity and problems with masculinity, women are rarely given more visibility in war narratives apart from their role as romantic interests; indeed, even Helen of Troy’s primary function in the Iliad has to do with how she is desired by multiple men. Women’s experiences in the war narrative often boil down to their sexual availability, which is a problem given the widespread epidemic of the use of rape as a weapon of war, and the general devaluing of women’s personhood in both media and real life. Because the role of women across war narratives is so similar, it is possible to use an archetype to describe them; as Carol Clover’s Final Girl provides a means for describing the role of heroines in the horror movie genre, so too does “Closer to the Objective” use the Helen-Figure or Helen Surrogate to codify the role of women in the war narrative. The primary texts examined in this work include the traditional war narratives the Iliad, against which comparisons are made; the biblical Book of Judith, which offers an alternative to the Helen-figure; Wolfgang Petersen’s Troy (2004); David Ayer’s Fury (2011); Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds (2009); and Band of Brothers (2001); as well as the non-traditional and war adjacent texts of Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq (2015); the Odyssey; poetry by Sappho about Helen of Troy; and Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad. The war genre’s relationship to the superhero genre allows for a brief elaboration about that family tree between Joss Whedon’s Avengers (2012) at the same time that it allows for criticism of the superhero genre from writers Gail Simone and Kelly Sue DeConnick to enter the conversation about the treatment of women in war. Other theoretical lenses in use in “Closer to the Objective” include war criticism from voices like Michael Walzer and Elaine Scarry; criticism of the historical fiction genre from Maria Margaronis; the treatment of the pain of others by Susan Sontag; and the language of how women are viewed from Mary Beard and Laura Mulvey. It contextualizes itself in the real world through the research done by Charlotte Lindsey of the International Committee of the Red Cross in the work Women Facing War, as well as statistics that UNICEF and RAINN have provided on the treatment of women in both combat zones and here at home in the United States.
John Mulrooney, Chair
Dr. Elizabeth Veisz, Member
Dr. Kevin Kalish, Member
Boger, Jillian. (2019). “Closer to the Objective”: Following Helen from Troy to Chicago. In BSU Master’s Theses and Projects. Item 66.
Available at https://vc.bridgew.edu/theses/66
Copyright © 2019 Jillian Boger