Peace Within the Traumatic Narrative: The Cyclic Process to the Silence of Shell Shock
MetadataShow full item record
In his novel A Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway asserts that the experience of war “breaks down time, language, and the perceived unity of the subjective self in the face of incomprehensible violence” (Hemingway 83). His quote offers an ample description for the process of self fragmentation triggered by traumatic wartime experiences, which results in shell shock. In his novel, Shell Shock, Memory, and the Novel in the Wake of World War I, Trevor Dodman, an Associate Professor of English at Hood College, describes war narratives as an attempt to reconstruct this fragmented self through processes of writing and narrating, which succeeds as a form of meditation. Through this process, the soldier attempts to communicate or share distressing wartime descriptions between himself and others by actualizing and/or coming to terms with their tragedies. Yet, this was more complicated or nonexistent for a myriad of WWI soldiers. During the early 20th century, there was little to no understanding about how these traumatic experiences affected the mind psychologically; therefore, the concept and experience of WWI was distressing to many soldiers and civilians since there was no language available to describe its horrors. For soldiers, this lack of accessible words inhibited and 2 complicated any ability to describe, comprehend, or deal with the war. Furthermore, due to this limitation a language barrier between themselves and others, as well as between the soldier and his own reality, was created. This language barrier was noted by Paul Fussell in his novel, The Great War and Modern Memory. In The Great War, he attempts to give a general explanation to this concept: “That is why some men, when they think about war, fall silent. Language seems to falsify physical life and to betray those who have experienced it absolutely— the dead” (Fussell 184). This falsification and betrayal by language constitutes a deeper form of shell shock, language not only becomes a barrier but it limits the soldiers’ reconstruction: the soldier is compelled to mentally repeat such experiences in order to come to terms with such, yet this repetition further forces distressing experiences on the soldier. It is within this problem that silence becomes a common motif in WWI literature. Silence is found where soldiers uses narratives to attempt to recreate so as to reconstruct, but discover they are unable to and fall short.
Nutt, Taylor S (2019). Peace Within the Traumatic Narrative: The Cyclic Process to the Silence of Shell Shock. Undergraduate Research Scholars Program. Available electronically from