Wounds, injury often omitted in war art and literature, says prof

St. Jerome's University professor Carol Acton is using women's fiction to show a different side to typical depictions of wartime heroes, which may gloss over the physical and emotional trauma.

Common depictions of soldiers often omit wounds, damage in war literature, says professor

A group of soldiers from the Perth regiment beside the River Avon in Stratford, shortly before being deployed.

A Waterloo professor is using using women's fiction to raise some interesting questions about how soldiers are depicted in war commemoration.

Carol Acton, associate professor in the department of English at St. Jerome's University at the University of Waterloo, said male soldiers are typically portrayed as strong, masculine figures, often without acknowledgment of the physical damage suffered. 

"That soldier is representing a certain version of war for the population," she told The Morning Edition's Craig Norris. "And so commemoration is seen through the depiction of that soldier."

In her research, Acton looked specifically at British writer Storm Jameson. Her writing in the 1930s represented a new kind of reflection on homecoming after the war.

According to Acton, Jameson discusses the degree to which language obscures wounds to the soldiers, specifically by creating characters who may appear whole on the outside, but have suffered some kind of damage that people are not immediately able to see.

"What [she is] trying to do is to own injury, to place it in the forefront of the public eye," Acton said. "Rather than see it as something that will remain hidden and only suffered by the people who actually experience it themsleves."

Carol Acton, professor in the department of English at St. Jerome's University. (Carol Acton)

What's missing

Acton said that whether it is through language or images, war commemoration often romanticizes fallen soldiers,  leaving out the actual physical and psychological damage that is done to both them and their surviving comrades.

"Often we glorify the deaths, but forget about the people who survive [and] came back but suffered for the rest of their lives," she said.

She said that pattern may come from a desire to console those who have been left behind or affected by war, or because the real images are simply too unpalatable for people to digest.

Whatever the case, Acton hopes to open up the conversation about some of those ideas at a Canada 150 Lecture Series at Waterloo Public Library on Wednesday.