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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Culture under stress : American drama and the Vietnam War Fenn, Jeffery W.


The dissertation undertakes an analysis of the dramatic literature engendered by the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s, and illustrates how the dramas of that period reflect the stresses and anxieties that assailed contemporary American society. It investigates the formative influences on the drama, the various styles in which it emerged, and the recurring themes and motifs. The thesis proceeds from the premise that the events of the 1960s fractured American society in a manner unknown since the Civil War. It demonstrates that the social, political, and intellectual divisiveness that characterized the society was interpreted in the theatre by dramatic metaphors of fragmentation of the individual and collective psyche, and that this fragmentation was reflected in characters who experienced a collective and individual sense of loss of cultural identity, cohesion and continuity. Included in the examination of the drama is a description of how the social upheaval of the period influenced playwrights to undertake a reassessment of American values and ethics, and to interpret in dramatic form the nature of the trauma of Vietnam for American society. The study includes a discussion of how individual and collective reality is based on cultural conditioning, and how the challenging of cultural myth in an extra-cultural milieu.

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