Fraternity On The Frontlines: Fictive Kinship And The Great War Analysis

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Fraternity on the Frontlines: Fictive Kinship and the Great War
Noting how “[i]n every combatant country there emerged groups of people whose business it was to help each other recover from [the First World War’s] traumatic consequences,” Jay Winter borrows anthropology’s idea of ‘fictive kin’ to denote close relationships between “particular groups of survivors, whose bond is social and experiential…as opposed to those linked by blood bonds or marriage” (47, 40). Winter argues for a link that “formed families of remembrance” to mourn and commemorate the fallen (41). In my dissertation I will posit that a similar kinship formed between the men on the frontlines of the First World War, and that this relationship is evident in the poetry, novels,
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Each chapter will demonstrate exactly how fighting men felt themselves isolated in each of these respects, and how the sense of kinship formed in response to each of these causes of isolation. I will focus on the works of Sassoon as these reflect each of these five causes of isolation most acutely. His Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, for example, portrays both the Arcadian England that is often “a memory and an ideal” in War literature (Raymond Williams, qtd. in Fussell 232), as well as its opposite, the “anti-pastoral deathscape” of the battlefield (Rae, Gilbert 185). This separation from Arcadia largely informs my idea of geographical distance behind fictive kinship. Likewise, “The Frailty” depicts a gender divide between fighting men and women at home who “don’t care / So long as He’s alright” (101). For these women, the war is a reality only so far as it specifically concerns her loved one. To the fighting man, conversely, each comrade killed is someone to be mourned, a brother lost: “everywhere [our comrades] die / War bleeds us white” (101). Here, the men feel each death as deeply as the women at home feel the loss of their one man. Sassoon’s works abound with similar disconnects between soldiers and larger society along the lines of class, age, and ideology, but they also show how these very disconnects united the fighting men in Flanders (“War bleeds us white”). Sassoon’s works therefore explicitly demonstrate my idea of fictive kinship as the salve to the isolation they also depict—these men are isolated from home together, they feel the loss of their fallen comrades as a

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