Growing up through war : rites of passage in contemporary young adult novels and memoirs
thesisposted on 04.03.2014, 15:31 by Irina Dimitrova Kyulanova
My thesis compares the constructions of children’s and adolescents’ experiences of contemporary wars in two genres published for Western audiences: young adult fiction and childhood and adolescence memoirs. I argue that both genres evoke the pattern of the rite of passage in order to accommodate contradictory perceptions of young people’s war involvement: notions of children’s innocence and need of protection, but also of children’s possession of greater resilience than adults, or ability to perpetrate violence; ideas of the devastating impact of war, but also traditional notions of war as a maturing experience. My comparative approach elucidates the genre specifics in the employment of the rite of passage, conditioned by the different ways in which each genre relates to and participates in the extraliterary “passages” in which its authors and readers are involved. Young adult fiction offers representations of adolescence and war which demonstrate how Western adults understand both phenomena, and what they wish Western adolescents to know about them. As the genre is determined by a power imbalance between its adult creators and its young adult consumers, its use of the rite-of-passage framework acquires particular didactic significance in the context of the diffuse transition to maturity in contemporary Western societies. Childhood war memoirs, in comparison, belong to a referential genre with a special relation to past and present lived reality, and can throw into relief the characteristics of mediation performed by young adult fiction. However, I demonstrate that memoir representations are governed by their own genre- and context-specific rules. They construct subjects in transition, who re-evaluate their war experiences and negotiate a similarly power-imbalanced cultural passage from childhood to adulthood, and from their communities of origin to the Western countries to which they have immigrated.