Harry Ransom CenterThe University of Texas at Austin

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Teaching the American Twenties: Exploring the Decade through Literature and Art


After the War

Soldiers' Pay by William Faulkner

William Faulkner's 1926 novel Soldiers' Pay describes the return of a young officer, Donald Mahon, to his hometown in Georgia after World War I. Mahon is injured beyond recovery, and on the train another soldier and a war widow take him under their care. When they reach his home, where he was believed to be already dead, his surprised family and friends receive him with a mixture of misguided hope for his recovery, curiosity about his experiences and condition, and disgust for his wounds. Throughout the novel, characters demonstrate their attitudes toward the war through their reactions to Mahon and other soldiers. While the townsfolk show respect for soldiers who died, those who survived remain on the fringes of society, present but not fully participating in social activities. Soldiers are simultaneously heroes, burdens, and bleak reminders of the war. Ultimately, none of the soldiers "gets his girl," and the war casts its shadow over the relationships and lives of all the main characters and townspeople.

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Photograph
Photograph "Our girls who welcomed the 90th Division"
Eugene O. Goldbeck

This Eugene O. Goldbeck (1919) photograph, "Our girls who welcomed the 90th division," shows women dressed up to greet soldiers coming home from World War I.

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