Values and attitudes in the Early American 9/11 novel: representing the terrorist, the 'war on terror', and the reactions to 9/11
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date15/03/2024
The 9/11 novel has already enjoyed extensive scholarly interest in the previous decades, and while the earlier research has offered some great insights, it has focused on a rather limited set of novels, revolved around the topic of trauma, and virtually ignored the question, what, in fact, constitutes a 9/11 novel—a gap that this research aims to fill. I also approach the 9/11 novel with a new methodological framework utilizing Michel Foucault’s idea of discourse, rhetorical theory of narrative, and postcolonial studies. Furthermore, I focus on a fresh set of topics, as I strive to reveal what kind of values and attitudes early American 9/11 novels convey about the 9/11 attacks and reactions to them, the terrorist, and the “War on Terror”. As literature is always inseparable from its context, and even more so when discussing how literature frames major historical events, this thesis compares and contrasts the 9/11 novels to the post-9/11 social, political, and media discourse as well as the main political and social developments of the first decade of the century. I argue that the most popular early 9/11 novels, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close (2005), Jay McInerney’s The Good Life (2006), John Updike’s Terrorist (2006), and Don DeLillo’s Falling Man (2007), dwell on the idea of national victimhood and innocence and guide the reader’s sympathies towards the traumatized Americans. Furthermore, the novels suggest that the attacks “came out of the blue”, reduce them into a battle between good and evil, a “clash of civilizations”, and rely on Orientalist stereotypes in their representation of the terrorist. Consequently, these novels, largely, even if unintentionally, echo and support the dominant discourse of the time. However, we can also find novels from the 2000s which contradict the mainstream discourse, but these works have been mostly overlooked by earlier scholarship. I show that novels such as Jess Walter’s The Zero (2006), Ken Kalfus’s A Disorder Peculiar to the Country (2006), Mohsin Hamid’s The Reluctant Fundamentalist (2007), and Jacob M. Appel’s The Man Who Wouldn’t Stand Up (2012) approach 9/11 with incendiary satire. I argue that these novels present “taboo” reactions to the attacks and challenge the narrative of collective trauma, victimhood, and heroism. Moreover, the novels criticize the post-9/11 atmosphere of patriotism and suspicion as well as the “War on Terror”. My thesis, therefore, offers an important contribution not just to the 9/11 literary scholarship but to the wider discussions about the causes, consequences, and meaning of the terrorist attacks.