Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Year 13: Please find below two essays from previous students, one comparing Regeneration to the poetry of Wilfred Owen and the other to the poetry of Siegfried Sassoon. These essays are not quite 3,000 words and were written in 2002, when the requirements for this part of the course were slightly different, but they do give you a good idea of the kind of thing you're aiming for.
Discuss the presentation of images, dreams and nightmares in Pat Barker’s “Regeneration” and the war poems of Wilfred Owen .

Throughout the novel Regeneration by Pat Barker the psychological traumas of war are vividly shown through nightmares and dreams. The detailed imagery that Pat Barker presents in the novel can be seen at the beginning of Chapter Four where Anderson and Rivers are discussing a nightmare of Anderson’s. It seems that the way in which Pat Barker presents the dream is in a Freudian manner, therefore Barker gives the reader permission to interpret the symbolism present in the dreams in a Freudian way, and for example “Then I looked down and saw that I was naked.” Apparently Anderson feels vulnerable and frightened about the judgement from other people present in his life for example from his wife, therefore Anderson’s dream appears to provide a perfect metaphor of this vulnerability. Many of the poems present in the book “The complete works of Wilfred Owen” similarly reflect the traumas of war. This book contains the first hand experience of war by Wilfred Owen, who is also present in Pat Barkers Regeneration.
Pat Barker presents the different types of war neurosis and their devastating effects thoroughly throughout the novel, for example Sassoon has hallucinations, Anderson has a fear of blood and Prior has mutism. The way in which Barker presents these effects is through graphic imagery similar to the type of imagery seen in war poetry, however Barker uses an almost Freudian slant in the way she reflects this. It can be seen that perhaps she is relying on the fact that her readers have some form of psychological knowledge. This can be seen in Chapter Four when Burns is in the forest he witnesses some dead animals hanging in a tree. At first he runs away in fright however he returns and takes them down out of the trees, in an almost ritualistic fashion as he places them in a circle and sits in the middle. His reasoning for doing this is that “Now they could dissolve into the earth as they were meant to do.” It seems that Burns would have liked to have had a similar ritual or burial for his fellow soldiers when he was at war but because of the large scale of death he was unable to. Also when he takes the animals down from the trees it seems that he is almost relieving the animals from “Purgatory”, and when they are on the ground they are with nature. Burns may long to do for this fellow soldiers, almost as though he needs closure. After Burns takes them down from the tree he takes his clothes off and sits in the middle of the circle. He feels that “This is the right place to be” This could suggest that Burns wants to be like the animals and his fellow soldiers and decompose into the ground. From the modern psychologists point of view it would appear that Burns may have a “death-wish,” possibly because he is suffering from what is known as “Survivors guilt.” This is also suggested in the poem ‘Apologia Pro Poemate Meo,’ in the second stanza Owen reveals the idea that the soldiers feel no “sickness or remorse of murder.” This highlights the fact that the soldiers have become completely desensitised to what would normally be seen as something completely disturbing. One of the striking factors about this poem is that Owen is making light of something that is so horrific. With this in mind Burns’ ritual could be perceived in the similar way as Owen’s poem, a mirror that makes beautiful that which is distorted. When Burns looks in the mirror he sees beauty in what he is doing, however the reflection to the contemporary eye is deformed.
Another interpretation of this extract is that Barker could be using religious imagery. In chapter 14 when Rivers visits Burns at his home he discovers that in Burn’s bedroom he has many books on Theology, “He wondered whether this was an expression of faith, a quest for faith, or an obsession with the absence of God.” Although Rivers is unsure why Burns has the books on Theology, Burns must have a broad knowledge on religion which therefore leads the reader to believe that the ritual that he does with the animals could be almost religious. On page 184 Barker uses a religious metaphor for the regeneration of the patients like Burns, she reveals Rivers’ theory that in order for his patients to recover they have to go through a similar process as a caterpillar that metamorphoses into a butterfly. Before the men go to war they are completely different when they return from war, for example Burns was seen as a “Jack the lad” before he went to war and when he returned he became thoughtful and obsessed with God. This imagery of the Caterpillar could be interpreted as the image of the resurrection of Christ, because when Christ was resurrected he was changed man like Burns. This metaphor emphasises the effect of war because for a man to have to completely decompose or die in order to recover, is an image likely to be seen in a nightmare.
Owen’s poetry reflects the idea of the chrysalis as he allows the reader to see inside the mind of a man who has completely broken down: the reader witnesses the “rotting caterpillar.” Owen extends this idea of a broken man, to a broken society in the poem, ‘At a Calvary Near The Ancre.’ Before the war Religion was a huge factor in many people’s lives, in this poem Owen highlights that Christianity is failing; Christ has “lost a limb,” and “his disciples hide apart.” The disciples that hide apart are the French, German and English soldiers, therefore this goes against everything that Christianity signifies. At the time this was a completely unorthodox image as everything that society had believed in is being questioned.
One of the most common fears during the war was a fear of emasculation. Not only is this reflected through most of the patients’ dreams, nightmares and relationships at Craiglockhart but it can also be seen in many war poems too. In Regeneration in chapter four when Graves and Sassoon go swimming, Sassoon comments on a scar that Graves has at the top of his thigh. Graves appears to be very sensitive towards the comment made by Sassoon that if “It was an inch further up” he should join a ladies choir. Overall emasculation appeared to effect the soldiers in many ways, because the relationship between Prior and Sarah is hindered by Priors fear of emasculation. Prior clearly would like to express his true emotions about the war, but due to society during this period it was looked down upon for a man to appear feminine by admitting the fact that war was terrible. This can be seen in Regeneration where Barker presents the Paradoxes of war (Pg.107) in the poem “Disabled” by Wilfred Owen. The tone of this poem is clearly very bitter about the propagandists who sent innocent men, like the man described in this poem to war. It also has the theme of emasculation too. This is seen in the Sixth Stanza “He noticed how the women’s eyes passed from him on to the strong men who were whole.” This metaphor to present the idea that the soldier feels that he is no longer “man enough” spiritually as well as the obvious; the fact that he is physically not whole. In Regeneration Barker reflects this idea of women looking differently upon disabled men. This can be seen when Sarah goes to visit Prior at the hospital and she accidentally walks into the conservatory where all the disabled men are. The imagery that Barker uses in this chapter appears to be nightmarish, “One of the men had lost all of his limbs, and his face was so drained, so pale, he seemed to have left his blood in France as well.” Owen uses very similar imagery in the poem “Disabled.” The soldiers that are sitting in the conservatory also seem to have this fear of emasculation. When Sarah walked in they were not trying to catch her eye like all of the other men would have been trying to do, they were just fearful of the fact that they were not “man enough”, “It was fear, fear of her looking at the empty trouser legs. Fear of her not looking at them at all.” The repetition of the word “fear” highlights the trauma these disabled soldiers had.
It also heightens the sympathy felt by the contemporary reader because not only are these soldiers never going to walk again but also during the time, society would not have given them sympathy. This can be seen in “Disabled” “some cheered him home…only a solemn man thanked him and enquired about his soul” Only one man thanked him for his efforts, and only “some” cheered him home. It seems that Owen is reflecting the idea of a nightmare becoming reality. The idea of a nightmare becoming reality can also been seen in Regeneration when Burns continually wakes in the night vomiting from his traumatic experience of war, he was flung into a rotting corpse therefore eating and sleeping has become a living nightmare. This imagery that Barker has used appears to be shocking for the contemporary reader as generally the contemporary reader has not had traumas similar to Burns; therefore it is difficult to connect personally with him. This could be the reason Barker has presented this imagery in a nightmarish manner, as the reader is able to connect with nightmares.
Owen has also used this method of shocking the reader with nightmarish imagery in the poem “Dulce et decorum est” this can be seen in the fourth stanza, “If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace behind the wagon that we flung him in.” It seems that Owen is conveying the idea that the reader is only going to see this image in a “smothering” dream or nightmare, however what makes it more shocking is in reality the soldiers like Owen have seen these horrible images in reality. To make the statement even more directed at the reader Owen uses the personal pronoun “you” in-order to draw the reader into the poem and to relate to his statement. Originally this poem was directed at propagandists such as Jessie Pope, and this is clearly evident when he addresses her as “My friend” in an ironic tone. At the end of the third stanza, Owen presents his own personal nightmares, “In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.” Owen conveys the idea of his own innocence and weakness through the words “helpless sight” From the readers perspective sympathy is heightened as Owen feels that no-one can help his trauma, and the Onomatopoetic words “Guttering, choking, drowning” reflect the nightmarish and horrific imagery of war. In the poem “Dulce et decorum est” Owen has a vivid imagination, it seems that the idea of imagination becomes thought provoking for the reader as someone had to imagine how to crucify Jesus for example or how to create mustard gas. However imagination for the poets is therapeutic: as writing poetry is one of the reasons why they are cured from war neurosis so quickly, and the lack of imagination by civilians lets the war continue. This is one of the reasons why the war poets used such graphic and horrific imagery like in “Dulce et decorum est,” as they wanted civilians to imagine the image of what ten thousands deaths would look like in-order to stop the war from continuing.
In Regeneration Barker has written the novel in a third person narrative, however Barker often conveys several characters thoughts, emotions, nightmares etc. As she has multiple foci in the novel it is difficult to convey the individual characters thoughts and feelings and this is an important factor in a psychological novel. To solve this problem she uses free in-direct style. It seems that this is therefore an effective way to convey different characters nightmares in a more detailed and personal manner. Throughout the novel the conversation and dialogue is central, partly because one of the central characters Rivers; is a psychologist and therefore communicating with his patients is his job. In war poetry the poets often write in third person narrative, or in free-indirect style like Barker or in first person. Owen wrote his poetry in first person narrative, giving his nightmare images a feeling of lyrical authenticity. Owens style could almost be seen a modernist perspective. War poets often commented on personal first hand experiences and poets such as Seigfried Sassoon had political statements to make. It seems that the war poets want society to realise the true horrors and pointlessness of war and one of the most effective and hard-hitting ways in which they did this was through the graphic imagery that they used.
Traditionally Barkers subject matter in her previous novels was mainly about the struggle of northern women; therefore the subject matter of regeneration is in juxtaposition. However the character Sarah is northern and Barker presents a glimpse of her hard life, however from the perspective of the reader Sarah’s struggle in life is no comparison to the patients at Craiglockhart due to the mental and physical trauma they have exceeded. Although Barker does not have the first hand experience of war like the war poets she seems to convey the traumas of war effectively through her characters and the imagery that she uses. Due to her free in-direct style the reader is able to witness many different effects of war neurosis and its effects in the form of nightmares and images from many different perspectives.
The main difference between the novel Regeneration and the war poetry of Wilfred Owen is that, Regeneration not only allows the contemporary reader to identify and sympathise with the characters but also reveals the effects of war from many angles. In contrast war poetry is often restricted to a singular theme and is shorter in length. However the war poetry is hard-hitting due to its graphic imagery and moral message. It seems that both Regeneration and the works of Owen vividly reflect the horrific images of war but in completely contrasting ways.

An exploration of the ways in which Siegfried Sassoon in his poetry and Pat Barker in her novel Regeneration present the psychological trauma of the Great War.

Trench poets such as Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon produced their work perhaps as a kind of therapeutic self-expression; the poems have a sense of confession and authenticity though their striving for a poetic language that can articulate the trauma of the trenches. Conversely, Pat Barker seeks to revivify the shock value these poems had on their first audience by setting them against the context, not so much of the battlefield, but of the psychological landscape those battlefields produced. Sassoon and Barker come from different perspectives and understanding of the world and of the psychological impact of war.

The novel Regeneration centres on the relationship between Siegfried Sassoon and Captain W.H.R Rivers, an army psychologist (based on the real psychiatrist and anthropologist who worked at Craiglockhart Hospital). The novel explores the psychological impact of war, as Sassoon (interned for going public with his anti-war views) and his fellow patients struggle to make sense of their experience on the front line. The novel also explores Sassoon’s first attempts, with Wilfred Owen, to develop a new poetic language to communicate the horror of trench warfare. As a major voice of dissent against the war, Sassoon used his poetry and literary skills to make political statements about the futility of war.

Barker explores the psychological impact of war on individual characters rather than setting her narrative in the trenches themselves and perhaps this tends to de-emphasise the traumatic reality and violence of trench war that is so well expressed in Sassoon’s work. The counter argument to this is that Sassoon strives to give an account of the violence and promote anti-war opinions without exploring the psychological impact, often favouring a emotionally distant, ironic tone, for example in passages like this one:

I wondered where he’d been then heard him shout
‘They snipe like hell! O Dickie, don’t go out’
I fell asleep……Next morning he was dead,
And some slight wound lay smiling on the bed.[1]
The last line portrays a shocking juxtaposition between the words ‘wound’ and ‘smiling’ which contradicts the image of pain and death. The reason for Sassoon’s unusual wording may be to describe the curved shape of the wound which looked as though it was smiling, almost smugly at how it has killed while being so apparently minor. The poem presents the immediacy and shock of trench violence but lacks the more subtle, tentative exploration of the long-term consequences that typifies Regeneration.

In this quotation there is a very casual and unemotional comment when the poem’s voice saw his friend’s dead body. This may be because at the time the voice was suffering from shock. The war not only hardened the soldiers’ emotions but numbed them completely, an idea which is also portrayed in Regeneration, where for instance Prior can make a joke about a dismembered eyeball: “What am I supposed to do with this gob-stopper?”[2] His grief and compassion is numbed by prolonged exposure to the horrors of the trenches and it is his own disgust with this callousness, rather than the shock of seeing the eyeball itself, which causes his neurasthenia. This detailed exploration of the psychological trauma of the trenches is missing from the bitter, brief, and in some ways simplistic protest poems that made up much of Sassoon’s work.

“Stammering, disconnected talk” [3] a failure to string sentences together coherently and being mute are symptoms that are explored in Regeneration. They are attributes to shell shock or ‘neurasthenia’ which manifests differently depending on the social background and education of the individual. When Rivers says to Prior “We-ell it’s interesting that you were mute and that you were one of the very few people in the hospital who doesn’t stammer.” [4] Rivers saw that a majority of the working class soldiers made themselves subconsciously mute in contrast to ‘public school’ officers who seemed to stammer. Rivers explained to Prior that “for a private soldier the consequences of speaking his mind are always going to be far worse than they would be for an officer.”[5] Private soldiers also had a prevalence of physical symptoms such as paralysis, blindness and deafness, Rivers believes that the working classes would never accept a soldier suffering from a mental illness because of their lack of education.
Prior especially brings to the novel an examination of social class from the time. His relationship with Rivers is confrontational. When Prior met Rivers he communicated by writing in capitals which implies that, had he not been muted by his psychological trauma, he would be shouting. This demonstrates that at first Prior’s character was rude and extremely defensive. Barker’s programme is to portray social comments mainly, in comparison to Sassoon who tended to concentrate more on the political side of the war in his poems. Rivers also suffers from the symptom of stammering and Price responds to his observations regarding his having been mute and officers stammering by saying “It’s even more interesting that you do’……..Rivers was taken aback, ‘that’s d – different” [6] Rivers listens to secondary information about various experiences that happened during the war from traumatised soldiers. Listening to each story made Rivers suffer through similar symptoms to the soldiers, such as stammering and having nightmares.

Civilians at home would never understand the mental trauma the soldiers went through and because of the lack of knowledge, this created a growing division between the soldiers and civilians. Sassoon in his ‘Declaration’ uses dramatic techniques and emotive, destructive language to emphasise his bitterness and portrays sarcastic remarks to highlight the lack of imagination “those at home”[7] had.
“I may help to destroy the callous complacence with which the majority of those at home regard the continuance of agonies which they do not share, and which they have not sufficient imagination to realise”[8]

In the poem ‘Does it matter?’ Sassoon, writes about society’s patronising sympathy towards those who have become disabled as a result of the war:

“Does it matter?- losing your leg?….
For people will always be kind”. [9]

The opening line is ironic as it in sharp contrast to the psychological and physical debilitation of losing a leg implied by the following lines:

“when the others come in after hunting
To gobble their muffins and eggs.”[10]

Sassoon seems ignorant of class and only applies his ideas to his own experiences and way of life: the working class veterans, disabled or otherwise, who would never go ‘hunting’ or eat ‘muffins and eggs’. In Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man Sassoon talks of the merits of an upper middle class life and ease as a fox hunter and loafer, but in a way Sassoon can be seen as being arrogant throughout his poems as he assumes he speaks for all men.

The opening line of Sassoon’s poem ‘Survivor’ gives the reader a sense of misleading hope:

“No doubt they’ll soon get better”, [11]

The throw-away feeling emphasised by the assured “No doubt’ calls to mind the sinister complacency of ‘Does it matter?”, and the general tone of ironic distance in Sassoon’s poetry is perhaps a way of distancing himself from the horror of his trench experience which, while it fuelled his poetry, had to be handled carefully because it also fuelled his nightmares. These nightmares continued during his convalescence at the hospital, and if it were not for the pioneering work of Rivers it is probable that his decline would have led to a total break-down.

Sassoon expresses guilt in the poem ‘Sick Leave’. Here Sassoon falls asleep, pictures ‘the noiseless dead’ (L.2) who seek him out, reproaching him for not being back at the front with his Battalion. “- and they’ll be proud/of glorious war that shatter’d all their pride”[12] Again the poet presents us with a sense of hope, immediately reversed by a harsh reminder of brutal reality. The survivors, once they have managed to reflect on the ‘glorious war’ with pride; but this, in turn, will remind them of their time spent overcoming the horror, when they had no self-esteem having been reduced to helpless children.

“with eyes that hate you”[13]
Sassoon ends the poem in an accusatory manner, no doubt directed at the supporters of the war, the people who can easily push soldiers back to the front without ever knowing the horrors of trench warfare.

A typically disassociated, unfeeling voice makes its presence felt in this line from the poem ‘Survivor’, “of course they’re longing to go out again”[14]. The flippant remark, implying that all soldiers were willing to return to the front, is typical of the attitude Sassoon perceived in the non– combatants at home. The phrase, “These boys with old, scared faces”, [15]emphasises the youth and innocence of the soldiers with the ageing process of the war. Yet, although these men are made old before their time, they are also reduced to infants; they are decribed as ‘Children’ (L.10) having to re-learn such basic processes as how to walk, showing again the debilitating psychological consequences of the trenches.

In Regeneration Pat Barker describes the social rather then psychological repression of the truth of the battlefield, by using the character Sarah Lumb, who stumbles upon a group of disabled veterans. “Simply by being there, by being that inconsequential, infinitely powerful creature: a pretty girl, she had made it worse.”[16]Her presence made their lives seem worse, because of their freakish appearance created from the war. Sarah concludes: “If the country demanded that price, then it should bloody well be prepared to look at the result,” [17]Not only does this show the psychic damage to the veterans but allows Pat Barker to indirectly comment on how society at the time refused to look at the result of the war, especially the men who were missing limbs and were isolated from the rest of the world, “They’d been pushed out here to get the sun, but not right outside, and not at the front of the hospital where their mutilation might have been seen by passers-by.”[18]

Sassoon and Barker both explore the male ego and the damage done to it by the war in very different ways. Barker’s most interesting and complex characters are men: Prior, Rivers and Sassoon. In her writing Barker often explores male characters and the way the war endangers the soldiers’ sense of masculinity in roles and situations where they play the traditional female role: passive, immobile, sitting trapped in one place, mending their own clothes, sharing talk, until the orders come from a superior man to do different. “The war that had promised so much in the way of ‘manly’ activities had actually delivered ‘feminine’ passivity, and on a scale that their mothers and sisters had scarcely known. Know wonder they broke down.” [19]

Sassoon ignored any sense of sexual confusion within his poems (possibly as a form of self protection) whilst in contrast, in Regeneration there are many references about sexuality between the officers. “There was an enormous emphasis on love between men-comradeship-and everybody approves. But at the same time there’s always this little niggle of anxiety. Is it the right kind of love?” [20] Society didn’t except homosexuals at that time and a man who was ‘found out’ would have to face many penalties, including a possible prison sentence. During the war ‘comradeship’ also made emotions blurred, “one of the paradoxes of the war-one of the many-was that this most brutal of conflicts should set up a relationship between officers and men that was………domestic and caring.”[21] In parallel to this, in Sassoon’s poem, The Death - Bed, the poem’s persona shows compassion for his men this reveals femininity, which can be interpreted as being a male - mother figure, “Someone was holding water to his mouth.”[22]

War writers such as Sassoon had an important case to make against the war and were aware that they needed to use dissembling techniques in order to do so. For example phrases like, “The counter attack had failed”. [23] Impact and technique was important, so poets like Sassoon could tell the nation how they had deliberately had the wool pulled over their eyes about the realities of war and the psychological traumas it caused. It is particularly important to note that in order to do this they actually edited the truth and used falsehood. In this sense Sassoon’s work is no more a reality than the novel of Barker: both are motivated to communicate messages about the psychological trauma of the war from their own social and historical perspectives.

In this respect Barker re-imagines real people and her setting is during the war, not its aftermath. She does not distinguish between reality and fiction and there is a danger that this undermines the reader’s understanding of the issues she is trying to examine. It is as if Barker wants to make important points about the psychological fallout of the war that she feels have not been covered before, perhaps because she understood that the war writers exaggerated and lied to make their points. However, Barker seems to want her readers to assume that the war writers speak the truth in order that she can enlarge on her arguments in a modern context, taking the names of Sassoon and Owen in her texts as some sort of guarantee of historical accuracy.

Another aspect of Regeneration is that Pat Barker expects us to believe that in 1918 doctors and officer-patients in shell-shock hospitals were discussing the finer points of Freudian psychology with each other. Many, including the neurologists advising The War Office, had poor medical education. It is therefore a highly unlikely that every one shared this view or that psychotherapy became generally available in the way it is in Barker’s novel. However, Barker artfully ignores this so that the modern reader, who probably is equipped with some awareness of Freudian theory, can be easily and fluently involved in the examination of the psychological consequences of the war that are the novel’s main theme. This is in sharp contrast with Sassoon’s poetry, which, in its ironic tone, can be seen more as a product of psychological trauma than an exploration of it.


Regeneration Pat Barker Penguin Books London 1992
Siegfried Sassoon-The War Poems Siegfried Sassoon Faber London 2002

Word count: 2,360

[1] L9 -12 Died of Wounds - Sigfried Sassoon
[2] Page 103 Paragraph 2 - Regeneration - Pat Barker
[3] L 2 Survivor - Siegfried Sassoon
[4] Page 97 Paragraph 2 - Regeneration - Pat Barker
[5] Page 96 Paragraph 5 - Regeneration - Pat Barker
[6] Page 97 Paragraph 2 - Regeneration - Pat Barker
[7] Page 3 Paragraph 5 - Regeneration - Pat Barker
[8] Page 3 Paragraph 5 - Regeneration - Pat Barker
[9] L 1-2 Does it Matter - Siegfried Sassoon
[10] L 4-5 Does it Matter - Siegfried Sassoon
[11] L 1 Survivor - Siegfried Sassoon
[12] L 7-8 Sick Leave - Siegfried Sassoon
[13] L 10 Sick Leave - Siegfried Sassoon
[14] L 3 Survivor - Siegfried Sassoon
[15] L 4 Survivor - Siegfried Sassoon
[16] Page 160 - Paragraph 3 - Regeneration - Pat Barker
[17] Page 160 - Paragragh 3 - Regeneration - Pat Barker
[18] Page 160 - Paragraph 2 - Regeneration - Pat Barker
[19] Page 107 Paragraph 4-3-2 - Regeneration - Pat Barker
[20] Page 204 Paragraph 5 - Regeneration - Pat Barker
[21] Page 107 - Paragraph 4- Regeneration - Pat Barker
[22] L7 The Death - Bed - Siegfried Sassoon
[23] L 39 The Counter Attack - Siegfried Sassoon


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Fred Bloggs

Mr Davies

I am stuck on my essay. Here's an extract I've cut and pasted. Can you give me an idea of what I should say about this quotation?

1:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arthur Smith

Sir, my homework on the flea would not print off, so here it is:

3:58 AM  

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