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ENGL 605.47 - Enemy Alien or Captive Ally?

Instructor: Dr. Donna Coates
Schedule: Thursday 9:30-12:15

Course Description:

Representations of Prisoners of War in Australian and Canadian Literatures of the First and Second World War

The relatively short history of white settlements in Australia and Canada is full of deliberate acts of confinement or the exclusion of groups of people who, for one reason or another, have been either deemed unsuitable for a settler society or regarded as a menace to it.  These brief histories have been marked and marred by instances of captivity of Germans in Australia and Ukrainians and Germans in Canada during World War One, and of Italians and Japanese in both Australia and Canada during World War Two. Several Australian novels also document the reception of the second-largest group of Italians to be held in captivity during the Second World War—the 18,5000 POWs who were captured in North and East Africa and then brought to Australia to work on individual farms and in rural industries.  Other captivity narratives, such as Richard Flanagan’s Man Booker prize-winning novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2013), record the harrowing experiences of the Australian prisoners-of-war captured by the Japanese during World War Two and forced to build the Thai-Burma Railway.

Until recently, research on and the production of these narratives implied that captivity represented a situation of stasis—that only men were imprisoned and nothing changed except that some lived and some died. Yet constant change and flux characterizes the prisoner-of-war story—from locations, supplies of food, medications, to ever-changing captors.  Moreover, in both countries, prisoner-of-war stories have largely been ignored because much of the writing about war concentrates on the fighting soldier and the immediate effects of battle. Hence narratives about civilians who were themselves directly and adversely affected by war have continued to remain peripheral to these national visions about war, which have routinely concentrated on military service and its effects on individuals.  Contemporary writers, often women, have struggled to emphasize the extent to which the reach of war extends far beyond the military, to demonstrate the hardships endured by women and children left to fend for themselves in hostile environments.  Saskia Beudel’s Borrowed Eyes reveals similar hardships Australian servicewomen faced during their internment in Sumatra. These contemporary works thus demonstrate that prisoner-of-war stories are multifaceted, that they include a much broader range of experience than has been documented to date, and are hence worthy of more consideration than they have received in the past.    

The comparative nature of the course will shed light on the motivations for incarceration driven by racial stereotyping and exclusion which was couched differently in each country, but always within a rubric of national defence and security. These texts will indicate that in each country, internment of the “other” was a pointless exercise based on irrational fears.  Nevertheless, several texts stress that some good has come from the internment of the “other”: in Australia, for example, the internment of Italian Australians and Italian POWs provided one of the links in its transition from a traditional British society towards a more broadly based multicultural society in the quarter century after the war, as many Italians opted, after repatriation, to make Australia their home.  But no matter the treatment the internees in any of these novels received, the internments proved to have lasting impacts on their lives.

Preliminary Reading List: 

Australian Texts (to be selected from the following):

Gwen Kelly, Always Afternoon (1981)
Joan Dugdale, Struggle of Memory (1991)
Cory Taylor, My Beautiful Enemy (2013)
Christine Piper, After Darkness (2014)
Saskia Beudel, Borrowed Eyes (2002)
Richard Flanagan, The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2014)
Susan Temby, The Bread With Seven Crusts (2002)
Goldie Goldbloom, The Paperbark Shoe (2008)
Joanne Carroll, The Italian Romance: a Novel (2005)
Vilma Watkins, Pukunja: A Far Away Place (1999)
Anita Heiss, Barbed Wire and Cherry Blossoms (2016)
Thomas Keneally, Shame and the Captives (2014)

Australian Films

15 Amore (1998)
Paradise Road (1997)

Canadian Texts

Frances Itani, Requiem (2011)
Joy Kogawa, Obasan (1981)
Leon Trotsky, My Life (1930), Chapter 23, “In a Concentration Camp” (Amherst, Nova Scotia)
Barbara Sapergia, Blood and Salt (2012)
Michael Crummy, The Wreckage (2014)

Canadian Films, Television Series (additional background)

Anne Wheeler’s docudrama A War Story (1981) and documentary The War Between Us (1994)

Episodes from the World War Two television series (Global and Univision on Canada) The Bomb Girls (2012-2013)

Course Assignments:

Students will prepare a presentation on pedagogical strategies for teaching one text (25%); they will produce and present an essay on that text (25%); they will submit official response questions for one text (10%) and three questions for each work they are not presenting on (10%); they will submit a final paper on three texts they have not presented on (30%).

Students will be expected to read widely in trauma, post-memory, post-colonial, feminist, and transnational theories and apply them theories to their presentations and papers.  Students will also be expected to ground themselves in the historical background of each group and the reasons behind their internments. I will provide a comprehensive list of secondary sources prior to the beginning of the course.