Vietnam fought and imagined: the images of the mythic frontier in American Vietnam War literature

Naito, Hiroaki (2014) Vietnam fought and imagined: the images of the mythic frontier in American Vietnam War literature. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This thesis seeks to examine how a particularly American ideological formation called the frontier myth has been re-enacted, challenged, and redefined in the literary works written by several American authors. Existing researches about the pervasiveness of the frontier mythology in American culture written by scholars such as Richard Slotkin, Richard Drinnon, and others demonstrate that, as the myth of the frontier–––the popular discourse that romanticizes early white settlers’ violent confrontation with American Indians in the New World wilderness–––has been deeply inscribed in America’s collective consciousness, when they faced with the war in a remote Southeast Asian country, many Americans have adopted its conventional narrative patterns, images, and vocabulary to narrate their experiences therein. The word, Indian Country–––a military jargon that US military officers commonly used to designate hostile terrains outside the control of the South Vietnamese government–––would aptly corroborate their argument. Drawing upon Edward Said’s exegesis of a structure of power that privileged Europeans assumed when they gazed at and wrote about the place and people categorized as “Oriental,” I contend that the images of the frontier frequently appearing in US Vietnam War accounts are America’s “imaginative geography” of Vietnam. By closely looking at the Vietnamese landscapes that American authors describe, I intend to investigate the extent to which the authors’ view of Vietnam are informed, or limited, by the cultural imperatives of the myth. At the same time, I will also look for instances in which the authors attempt to challenge the very discourse that they have internalized. I will read several novels and stories of American Vietnam War literature in a loosely chronological manner––from earlyier American Vietnam novels such as William Lederer’s and Eugene Burdick’s The Ugly American (1958), through three notable Vietnam–vet writers’ works published between the late ’70s and ’90s that include Tim O’Brien’s Going After Cacciato (1978) and The Things They Carried (1990), to Denis Johnson’s Tree of Smoke (2007), a recent novel produced after 9/11. Hereby, I aim to explain the larger cultural/political significances that underlie the images of the frontier appearing in American Vietnam War narratives, and their vicissitude through time. While the authors of early US Vietnam War narratives reproduced stereotypical representations of the land and people of Vietnam that largely reflected the colonial/racist ideologies embedded in the myth, the succeeding generations of authors, with varying degrees of success, have undermined what has conventionally been regarded as America’s master narrative, by, for instance, deliberately subverting the conventional narrative patterns of the frontier myth, or by incorporating into their narratives the Vietnamese points of view that have often been omitted in earlier US Vietnam War accounts.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: US Vietnam War Literature, Post-colonialism, the Frontier Mythology
Subjects: E History America > E11 America (General)
P Language and Literature > PS American literature
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts > School of Critical Studies > English Literature
Supervisor's Name: Gair, Dr Christopher and Miller, Dr Gavin
Date of Award: 2014
Depositing User: Dr Hiroaki Naito
Unique ID: glathesis:2014-5101
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 01 May 2014 13:11
Last Modified: 20 Apr 2017 12:37

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