Publication Date

April 2015

Advisor(s)

Sean McCann

Major

English

Language

English (United States)

Abstract

Half a century after the dawn of the Cold War, the terrorist attacks on 9/11 once again forced Americans to confront an existential threat to liberal democracy. The nature of fear in America has remained much the same over that period, and so has the literary response to it. A close study of 1950s Cold War novels and novels of 9/11 will show that the literature of existential fear follows the same narrative conventions and expounds constant themes, no matter the enemy or era. The conventions of this literature reflect a persistent story when doubts arise in times of crisis. By posing the threat of an imagined, existential enemy who seems to represent a completely different way of life, the literature of existential fear reminds us of the virtues of liberal democracy and the dangers of sacrificing ideals in the defense of liberty. Fear challenges us to rediscover who we are, where we fall short, and what we most value. The novels discussed in this thesis suggest that nothing brings life into focus like the prospect of losing it. When our way of life is threatened, we long for a renewed sense of identity, unity, and purpose and turn to the literature of existential fear to find it.

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