The Wars

The Wars

The Wars Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Timothy Findley's The Wars. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Timothy Findley

Timothy Findley was raised in the affluent Rosedale district of Toronto, Ontario. He attended St. Andrew's College, the same boarding school Robert Ross and Clifford Purchas attend before enlisting in the army in The Wars. As a young adult, Findley was a successful actor before he became a writer. He was part of the original company of the Stratford Festival (a world-renowned Shakespeare festival in Ontario) in the 1950s, and appeared on several popular Canadian television programs. In 1962, Findley met Bill Whitehead, a writer who eventually became his domestic partner and artistic collaborator. Ruth Gordon, a friend of Findley’s who was a screenwriter and playwright, encouraged him to try writing, so Findley retired from acting in the 1960s in order to pursue writing full-time. Though his first two novels were rejected by Canadian publishers, his third novel, The Wars, received great critical acclaim and won the Governor General’s Award. Findley went on to publish seven additional novels, as well as several short story collections, plays, and memoirs. He was also a founding member and chair of the Writers’ Union of Canada. Findley achieved high prestige as a writer before his death at age 71, having been awarded the Trillium Book Award among many other literary honors, appointed as an Officer of the Order of Canada, and inducted into Canada’s Walk of Fame.
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Historical Context of The Wars

The Wars takes place primarily between 1916 and 1922 during World War I, a conflict of unprecedented scale and brutality that collectively traumatized the Western world. New modern weaponry such as machine guns, artillery, bombs, mustard gas, and flamethrowers changed both the physical and psychological implications of battle, as these powerful, long-range weapons caused destruction on a massive scale while distancing and dehumanizing enemy sides from each other. This passive style of warfare has detrimental effects on the bodies, minds, and spirits of the soldiers in The Wars and is critiqued in Clausewitz on War, a military strategy book that Findley references in the novel. Beyond its direct effects on soldiers, World War I also had a profound impact on society as a whole, as humanity struggled to reassemble their traditional belief systems and perceptions alongside this mass-scale conflict that created both personal, cultural, and geopolitical fragmentation. Young people like Robert Ross who came of age during this time came to be known as “The Lost Generation,” as they were rendered traumatized, disillusioned, and aimless by the horrors of the Great War that claimed the lives of 40 million people.

Other Books Related to The Wars

The Wars is a work of Southern Ontario Gothic literature, a regional Canadian genre that was first coined by Findley. Southern Ontario Gothic draws on the American Southern Gothic tradition popularized by writers like William Faulkner and Flannery O'Connor, portraying the grotesque, disturbing aspects of the human experience in a realistic manner. It is also heavily influenced by the theories of psychologist Carl Jung in its dealings with mental illness, violence, and sexuality. Other popular Southern Ontario Gothic writers include Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, and Robertson Davies. The disorienting narration, participatory involvement of the reader, and unreliable mythology in The Wars is characteristic of other postmodern war novels like Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon and The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. The novel also explores the social upheaval, shame, and trauma caused by war, motifs that are commonly tackled in modernist works such as the poem The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot, the short story collection In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway, and the short story “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” by J.D. Salinger.
Key Facts about The Wars
  • Full Title: The Wars
  • When Written: Unknown
  • Where Written: Canada
  • When Published: 1977
  • Literary Period: Postmodern
  • Genre: War novel, Southern Ontario Gothic
  • Setting: Canada, England, Belgium, and France during World War I
  • Climax: Robert Ross disobeys orders to free his company’s horses and mules, kills Captain Leather, and deserts the army.
  • Antagonist: Captain Leather
  • Point of View: First, second, and third person

Extra Credit for The Wars

What’s in a Name? Findley was known by the nickname “Tiff” or “Tiffy,” an acronym of his full name, Timothy Irving Frederick Findley.

Family Business. Much like Thomas Ross’s company, Raymond/Ross Industries, in The Wars, Findley’s grandfather was the president of Massey-Harris, a Canadian farm machinery company.