The Presentation of Conflict in War Literature

Morally conflicted characters are present in all three texts, as individuals struggle to make a Judgment between what they perceive as right and wrong. In Regeneration Rivers experiences an Internal ethical conflict which Intensifies as the novel progresses. Whilst observing fellow therapist Holland work, Rivers is forced to question the moral legitimacy of his war contributions. Holland employs an intense form of therapy on voiceless patient Calla. A dream he has shortly after the experience brings this dilemma to the front of his mind, ‘in the dream he had stood in Wellhead’s place.
The dream seemed to be saying… Don’t latter yourself. There Is no distinction. ‘ Electro Convulsive Therapy (ACT) was, and still Is, a controversial treatment. Frequently used as a form of social control, and the uncertainty surrounding its effects, had led it to become a source of great fear for those it was enforced upon. The language used in this passage by Holland emphasis the assertion of his control over Calla. Barker uses several imperatives and modal verbs, such as you must behave as becomes the hero I expect you to be’ and you must talk before you leave me’.
The tone here is very authoritative and could make readers feel intrusive whilst reading. Similarly, in Birdsong the main character, Stephen, experiences the horrors of war and although initially emotionally detached grows to care about the men he is serving with. The fate of his comrades fuels disdain for the war leading him to denounce it as ‘an exploration of how far men can be degraded’. As Paul Salad (1999) says the pure fury and intensity of the imagery created is… Rebounded shocking and, ultimately, desperately uncomfortable to read’, and the poignancy of the description by Faults creates an immense Impact on the reader. Despite this when Stephen Is Injured and offered a desk Job whilst recovering n hospital he Is ‘appalled at the Idea of being separated from the men he had fought with. He despised the war, but he could not leave’. This is similar to Swanson in Regeneration, who writes a poem with the lines When are you going back to them again? Are they not still your brothers through our blood?.

This moral conflict can be amplified beyond the individual. In the poem Easter 1 91 6 W. B Yeats explores the cost of freedom. The issue of Home Rule had dominated Irish Politics for several years until eventually coming to a head In April 1916, when a group of rebels seized the UAPITA city of Dublin. Yeats demonstrates his mixed feelings with the oxymoron phrase ‘a terrible beauty is born’, by personifying this freedom with the verb ‘born’, Yeats seems to be implying that the cause has taken on a life of its own and those who created it no longer have control.
Through the simile ‘as a mother names her child when sleep at last has come on limbs that had run wild’, Yeats suggests that the rebel leaders had childlike enthusiasm for their cause, but Like children were naive The true brilliance of Yeats poem is, as Decline Kibbled (1995) said, is the honesty in which he debates the issue’, this honesty makes the poem more emotive and, moreover, gives modern readers an insight into those turbulent times. The outbreak of war came at a time when rigid social structures where in place; there was a sense that those who didn’t fit the ideal where not to be accepted – such as homosexuals.
The war brought about change, some matters where by no means altered dramatically but it at least brought the old principles into conflict with the new. Whereas other texts show us individuals struggling to accept their personal identities n a society that condemns them, the poem The Soldier by Rupert Brooke presents a character whose position is supported by the masses (through propaganda) and is no doubt as to who they are and what they stand for.
His certainty is evident in the opening line of the poem, ‘if I should die think only this of me’, this imperative expresses his confidence and as the poem is written in sonnet form his love for his country cannot be denied. However, Brooke never actually saw active service and therefore his genuine understanding of the war is feeble. Stalwartly (2002) writes of Brooke ‘had Brooke lived to experience… The trenches of the Western Front, it is hard to imagine that the poet… Would not have written as realistically as Owen… . We must thus ask whether his opinion would differ if he had the experiences of his contemporaries and without the weight of public disagreement on his shoulders it is easy to see why Brooke was so self-assured in his poem he is ‘a soldier poet… Not a war poet. ‘ Contrastingly, in Regeneration an element of Robert Graver’s identity does not agree at all with social views of the time. Homosexuality was actually illegal in the United Kingdom from 1533 up until 1967, therefore for Graves the issue goes beyond disapproval.
In chapter 17 Graves tells Swanson about Peter – a man they both knew of on the front line – ‘he was arrested’ for ‘soliciting outside the local barracks’. The shock of this leads Graves to denounce his identity, saying ‘it’s only fair to tell you that… Since that happened my affections have been running in more normal channels’. The suspension marks here imply uncertainty and the abstract noun ‘normal’ is used almost as a synonym as Graves doesn’t seem able to clearly associate himself with homosexuality.
It is clear in this passage that Graves cares greatly about how others perceive him; this consciousness leads to him changing who he is. Although in Birdsong, Weir experiences similar scrutiny due to him still being a virgin it is not seen as wrong but rather a source of amusement and pity for his comrades. Stephen takes it upon himself to ‘solve’ Weir’s problem and forces him into a situation which leaves him ‘shaken and pale’. Both Weir and Graves feel a certain amount of shame for the uncommon elements of their identity, but a key difference is that Graves allows himself to be changed.
Undoubtedly, Weir is conflicted in his feelings towards his virginity, it leads him to be filled with anxiety but yet he also ‘convince[s] himself that what he had missed could not be remarkable’. The verb ‘could’ suggest doubt and it is unclear whether Weir is ever certain in his conclusions, despite his reluctance to give away something that is linked so intrinsically to his own identity he still feels ‘it had come to nothing but humiliation’. In a private letter to his mother Wilfred Owen writes how ‘[he] nearly broke down and let [himself] drown’.
This sentence alone encapsulates the psychological struggle men underwent in the thin himself and allowed his self-will to slip. In his poem Exposure we see what led to this breakdown. The ABA rhyme scheme highlights the cyclical nature of trench warfare and the anaphoric use of ‘but nothing happens’ further supports this idea, somehow the men always end up back where they started and their ‘brains ached’ from it. It can be argued that being Worried by silence’ is worse than the The alternative and psychological breakdowns are a result of the repeated tension of waiting.
Owen manages to pull himself back up and carry on but for some men it wasn’t as easy. Burns in Regeneration struggles to escape his all consuming psychological trauma. Even Rivers, the doctor who is supposed to be helping him overcome this, is ‘defeated’ by it. In chapter 15 Rivers goes to visit Burns but he is quick to see that he is struggling to re-establish himself and ‘however hard Burns tried to thrust the memories of the war behind him, the nightmare followed’. The use of the verb thrust’ here implies force and suggests that Burns is desperately trying to escape but this is a battle he is loosing.
Burns illness takes over him mind and body, preventing him from eating and turning him yellow skinned’. Philip Gibbs, a journalist on the Western Front, later recalled that the shell-shock cases were the worst to see and the worst to cure… Sturdy, men shaking with ague, mouthing like madman, figures of dreadful terror, speechless and uncontrollable’. Brenna in Birdsong suffers a similar fate. Elizabeth goes to visit him in a care home in order to seek out more information on her grandfather and the war.
Brenna kept his sanity through the wars horrors (such as pulling his brothers rotting body out of a shell hole) but once he returned home his mental state declined. What is clear is that Brenna was alone in his battle with his psyche, Elizabeth curses how she cannot ‘restore poor Brakeman’s life or take away the pity of the past’. As seen in Exposure Brakeman’s life is monotonous. He spent his entire post war existence in and out of field hospitals and care homes without a single visitor. Without anything or anyone to cling to Brenna is overpowered by his psychological conflict.
We see a conflict in gender roles during the war and thus it is manifested in war literature. Women were evolving in the absence of men and when the men did finally come back they were expected to regress. There is a subversion of gender roles, women must become more hardened and ‘masculine’ to be able to support themselves and their remaining family, while the devastation of the war brings out the more compassionate feminine’ qualities in men. The war broke down boundaries and the conflict lay in the perceptions of what now separates men and women.
The women in Regeneration, Legalize in particular, represents a new radical form of women. Legalize relished her freedom so much that doesn’t want her husband ‘back on leave’ or even When it’s over’ and alludes to divorcing him. At the time divorces were still infrequent and frowned upon – so through her consideration of it we see how the mind set of women has progressed. Prior seems bewildered by this noting women have ‘changed so much during the war’ and how ‘he was so out of touch with women’. Siegfried Swanson wrote an ironic sonnet about women entitled The Glory of Women.
There is an accusatory tone running throughout the poem, such as the anaphoric use of the first person personal pronoun you’. This use of direct address emphasis Caisson’s frustration with those at home. The opening line of the poem presents the idea that Eros’. In this poem women are seen to love heroics but this is a one sided opinion. Women gave out white feathers at home to those who were not serving to denounce them as cowards, on the surface this seems quite callous and we can see why Swanson puts women on par with the enemy -German mother’.
However, the women giving out these feathers no doubt had husbands, brothers and sons fighting on the front line, therefore seeing men safe at home no doubt enraged them. Why should their family fight and die while some stay at home? These conflicting views question whether indeed the greatest conflicts are.. Teen one person and himself, it may be that (Sharon Mennonite 2002) ‘gender stereotyping may distort and repress the personal development of individuals of both genders’. The parallels between Isabella and Elizabeth are evident – both have affairs and illegitimate children as a result.
However, the circumstances in which these events happen are very different. In pre- war France Isabella is condemned by Renee for her affair, he shouts that she will ‘[go] to hell’ for what she has done. The reference to her father – ‘and you’re father… What can he do…? Gives insight into how women were viewed at the time, as objects or sessions of the men in their lives. However, Elizabethan affair with a married man in the sass is met with little scorn or resistance. This is again indicative of the time, after both wars women had begun to campaign for equality with movements such as the Suffragettes.
When Elizabeth tells her friends they are ‘displeased’ but for superficial reasons such as Jealousy, even her mother who is from an older generation is pleased for her. The similarities between these two women may have been done by Faults to show the changing attitudes towards gender and shows how after the conflicting years progress is eventually made. The conflicting opinions of what was happening on the battlefield created a huge separation between the soldiers and the public.
In The Hero by Siegfried Swanson a mother is told of the death of her son. However, she is not told the complete truth, she is told that her son died honorably and ‘as he’d have wished’. The truth is though that her son was ‘a useless swine’ (or so the ‘brother officer’ thinks) and he died ‘panicking down [a] trench’. The annalistic imagery used here creates a stark contrast with phrases such as ‘her glorious boy, this further emphasis the difference in what those at home re being told compared with what is actually happening.
Both stanza one and three have a matching rhyme scheme (BACK), this could have been done by Swanson to show the two versions of the story, whereas the falter in the rhyme in the second stanza (ABACA) shows the discrepancy of the ‘gallant lies’. These lies and propaganda lead to soldiers such as Billy Prior feeling disconnected when they are home on leave. When walking along the beach with Sarah, Prior describes the public as ‘black figures, like insects’ this metaphor extends as Prior describes their movements saying they[swarm] across the beach like insects’.
The connotations of the negative imagery of insects, especially flies, are foulness and decay. This separation showed how the war took lives in every sense of the word as some soldiers couldn’t find a place in society after the war, Prior feels ‘like a ghost’ among them. Weir experiences a similar feeling of disconnection when home on leave, he goes to visit his parents and feels strangely formal. It appears to him that the England he thought he was fighting for ceases to mean anything to him on a Weir to wonder ‘if he was going to say any word of greeting. Throughout his stay he is
Waiting for the moment when the familiar wash of normality would come over him’ but normality seems lost to him in the way he knew it. This indifference quickly rises into anger for Weir, after his leave he calls those at home fat pigs’ who ‘have got no idea what lives are led for them’. He then goes on to wish ‘a great bombardment would smash down… And kill the whole lot of them… Particularly my family. ‘. Like in The Hero the annalistic imagery emphasis the disdain Weir has for those at home and this anger fuels the conflict between the battlefield and the home front.

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