Effect of literature in the WWII trenches

Rosa Johnson, Managing Editor

 While the English department was hosting its annual undergraduate literature conference on Nov. 1, guest speakers attended and lectured for the event.

One of which is the Instructor of Composition and Literature for Portland Community College.

Nicholas Hengen Fox spoke in honor of this year’s Program for Liberal Arts and Civic Engagement  with the theme of “Legacies of War” in mind with his lecture, “Reading & Weeping: Books in the Trenches During World War II.”

Fox discussed soldiers’ emotional effects by pocket novels they received from the Council on Books and Wartime.

The CBW provided stories that were approved by the army for soldiers to read during service. This publishing movement resulted in the paperback boom during the war. Armed Service Editions, which are smaller and portable books, were popularized and easier for soldiers to take into battle.

“Books went everywhere and soldiers acted positively,” Fox said. Popular titles such as “The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald and “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” by Betty Smith were a part of the post-war counterculture that soldiers were able to indulge in.

Fox read fan mail that authors received and analyzed the letters. Delving into how readers interpret stories personally Fox examines one case, a military man named Davis Clifton. Clifton read Smith’s novel and wrote the author an emotional response, “[Clifton is] a zombie that feels joy and gratitude, it’s an emotional transformation,” Fox said.

Fox said that according to a study, those who read literature are able to understand people better. With Fox’s focus on the idea of self-expression that contradicts the stereotypes of men in the military by their book choices.

“A reader gets intense emotional reactions because there are things going on in your life which you can relate to,” Fox said.

Professor of the English department, Alexander Runciman, commented after Fox’s lecture during question and answering, “Fiction is an escapist idea; it is on the spot treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with the circulation of books. It is a full reality compared to a pretty damn restricted one.”