As with any genre, all novels termed ‘war stories’ share certain elements in common. The place and time settings of the novels, obviously, take in at least some aspect of at least one war or conflict. The characters tend to either be soldiers or are at least immediately affected by the military. An ever present sense of doom with punctuated moments of peace is almost a standard of the war novel. Beyond the basic similarities, however, each of these battle books stands apart as an individual. Charles Yale Harrison’s World War I novel, Generals Die in Bed is, in essence, quite different than Colin McDougall’s Execution. Coming years earlier, Generals can almost be seen to hold the wisdom one would expect see in an older sibling, while Execution suffers the growing pains that the younger child inevitably feels.
Most war novels center on themes of valor and heroism. Some concentrate on the opposites of these virtues in an attempt to display raw realism. Harrison, right from the beginning of his novel, shows us both. The narrator of this first-person narrative paints a picture of a totally un-heroic bunch of soldiers preparing for debarkation. The drinking and debauchery are followed the next morning by a parade that the suffering soldiers must march through, while the people watch their ‘heroes’ leaving to bravely fight the good fight. While this clearly demarcates the innocent civilians from the savvy soldiers, it also shows the reader that the narrator is going to try to tell the real story.
Execution starts with what is seemingly a journal entry, implying that it will be a first person narrative much the same as Ge...
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... enough contrasts between them that allow them to stand out as completely individual from one another. Each of these novels, then, is able to both expand upon the other, while being free in its own expression at the same time.
Harrison, Charles Yale. Generals Die in Bed. Waterdown: Potlatch Publications, 1999.
Lenoski, Daniel S. “Morning Glory: Execution and Romance.” American Review of
Canadian Studies. Volume 23 (1993): 387 – 406.
Mason, Michael A. “Execution: Heroism in a Modern War-Novel.” English Studies in
Canada. Volume 5 (1979): 94 - 104.
McDougall, Colin. Execution. Toronto: Macmillan, 1958.
Thompson, Eric. “Canadian Fiction of the Great War.” Canadian Literature. Volume 91
(1981): 81 – 96.
Vance, Jonathan. Death So Noble: Memory, Meaning, and the First World War.
Vancouver: UBC Press, 1997.
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