"Their Finest Genre": the Moral Relevance of World War II in Contemporary Literature

Summer 2016

Alison Lafferty : English, Italian Studies

Mentor: Katherine Snyder

World War II, one of the most significant global events of the 20th century, still has not faded from our societal memory. Specifically in the western world, this war has been moralized as an Allied victory against the grips of fascism, but recent representations of World War II events challenge these accepted moral perceptions. The representation of World War II in contemporary (post-1999) literature is not only unusual when considering that this literature was written over fifty years after the events being described, but also has potential consequences for the ways we perceive these events. My research asks, how do contemporary narratives based on the events of the Second World War change the moral relevance of those same events through sentimentalization or normalization? While sentimentalization tends to encourage the moralization of an event, normalization discourages it by rendering the event unremarkable.

In my research, I will investigate these two concepts and their potentials to change moral perceptions through writing to evaluate contemporary literature’s role in the remembering and moral assessment of the events of the Second World War. I will then apply these concepts to contemporary narratives, exploring how historically-based fiction changes the prevailing perspective on specific parts of our history and the moral relevance we then take from these same events. My research will utilize fact and fiction to broaden the discourse on retrospective moralization of World War II. This, in turn, will help us understand why we continue to explore moral issues from the WWII era and how we might moralize present and future events.

I am beyond appreciative of the Anselm Foundation for providing me with this SURF Award to do independent research this summer. This opportunity to pursue a topic I am passionate about--historically-based contemporary literature--will provide me with much-needed research and analysis experience for not only writing my senior thesis but also attending graduate school in my future. Aside from the experience necessary for my future goals that this award will afford me, it is also incredibly validating to know that others support the study of contemporary literature. I am thrilled to know that those at the Anselm Foundation took interest in my research and look forward to sharing my results.