Kimberly K. Dougherty deposited “A Death Like the Rebel Angels”: Cather and Faulkner Expose the Myth of Aerial Chivalry in One of Ours and Soldiers’ Pay in the group War Studies on Humanities Commons 4 years ago
This essay explores the challenge to the chivalric myth of the aviator in Willa Cather’s One of Ours and William Faulkner’s Soldier’s Pay. Revived during the First World War, this romantic myth cloaked the aviator in idealism and hid the actual body of the flyer in rhetoric. In this war of increasing mechanization, the air war was the last bastion of individual, man-to-man combat; as such, the chivalric myth captured the hearts of the public, painting the aviators as knights of the air and romanticizing both their kills and their deaths in legends of glory. Cather and Faulkner, writing shortly after the war’s end, expose this construction by showing aviators who are themselves subsumed by this myth, surrendering to this rhetoric until they essentially disappear within it. The pilots these authors present are decidedly unromantic, with raucous lives, disfiguring injuries and ignoble deaths. By putting these texts in conversation with each other, and with the discourse of aerial chivalry, this essay fills a gap in the study of war literature. Moving beyond the study of soldiers and the ground war, I show how these novels publicly critique the discursive formation of the aviator.