Throughout the Victorian era, only a certain form of manhood had social hegemony; this sense of masculinity stressed delicacy and a stately manner that exceeded the ability of the lower classes to attain. But by the turn of the century, masculinity was in a crisis, as Victorian manhood became associated with effeminacy and the homosexual—two increasingly popular concerns as the 1800s came to a close. In response, heartiness of character and virility began to be seen as proper characteristics of a man. With the outbreak of World War One, this new definition of manhood was only cemented further by its appropriation into war propaganda. America, Germany, and Britain all used their countries’ new hearty forms of manhood, radicalizing it in order to lure young men into enlisting. Subsequently, a distinct sect of anti-war literature developed in all three countries that sought to expose the destruction caused by this hypermasculine war lie. Through the use of historicism, critical theory, and literary analysis, I argue that America’s Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo, Germany’s All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Remarque, and the war poetry of Britain’s Wilfred Own and Siegfried Sassoon are all literary pieces of social dissent. Each author writes about the war that destabilizes the hegemonic form of masculinity used before the war, producing works of counter-propaganda aimed at the state and society as a whole. In doing so, they help dismantle larger systems of oppression and disseminate counter-cultural sentiments.
In the years leading up to WWI, masculinity underwent large cultural changes in Western Europe and America. Victorian standards of masculinity fell by 1895 from social control, enabling the new century’s code of manhood to rise—one based on heartiness and physical power. This new sense of manhood was later radicalized by countries for use in their propaganda, luring young men into enlisting. Subsequently, a group of antiwar literature arose to deal with the betrayal soldiers felt after the war. Through the use of historicism, critical theory, and literary analysis, I argue that America’s Johnny Got His Gun, Germany’s All Quiet on the Western Front, and the war poetry of Britain’s Wilfred Own and Siegfried are all literary pieces of social dissent against martial hypermasculinity.
I will be bringing my poster with me.