Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Arts



First Advisor

Brunner, Edward


AN ABSTRACT OF THE THESIS OF CATHRINE HOEKSTRA, for the Master of Arts Degree in English, presented on May 6, 2016 at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. TITLE: INVISIBLE WOUNDS: PROCESSING TRAUMA IN WAR NARRATIVES THROUGHOUT LITERATURE MAJOR PROFESSOR: Dr. Edward Brunner Many Veterans face “invisible wounds” of war. By examining various types of war narratives in literature we can understand how these veterans cope with their invisible wounds and what others can do to help them process their trauma. This project considers types of trauma theory in addition to several short stories by Tim O’Brien and Phil Klay. Veterans of Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan often face these “invisible wounds,” and these stories help us see that trauma in its complexity. War itself is a traumatic experience, but for some veterans post-traumatic-stress occurs after the war is over. It is my hope through this project we can understand the invisible wounds of war such as post-traumatic-stress disorder and traumatic brain injury while also understanding combat stress and the struggles that veterans face in their civilian life. By examining two texts of short stories from two completely different wars, we can look at trauma from different points of view. During Vietnam some veterans were faced with isolation, often times tempted with alcohol, drugs and suicide. These members of the armed forces were not welcomed home in most cases, and Tim O’Brien’s short stories let us understand just how daunting it was to be at war, and how storytelling is key to comprehending the difficulties of this war. Drawing on another kind of wartime experience is Phil Klay, who brings about the bureaucracies of Iraq and the difficulty that some Marines face when they are home trying to integrate into civilian life. Sometimes the stories are difficult, raw, and hard to comprehend, but processing trauma also allows one to improve the quality of life. By listening to these stories we are making the storyteller valued, and we are also learning about historical and cultural contexts. In my time as a Graduate Teaching Assistant, I was fortunate to work with student-veterans returning to the university after deployments. These students, all from diverse backgrounds allowed me to understand what it truly means to listen to the story and be attentive to what these students wanted and needed. By introducing war narratives, short stories, and poems in the classroom we give student-veterans an opportunity to see that writing is not only an outlet for self-expression, but also a way to let the public know what military life and deployments are like.




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