Monday, April 03, 2006

Y13 coursework: Kyle- first 1,00 words, marked. Have a good look at this and see where you can take it. Look at the advice on Lighting Fools again. Remember, you need about 8 poems from Sassoon- leave the bulk until the second half of your essay, but you’ve only mentioned 2 so far, and one of those only briefly. Be careful whwn reading this so you can see where my comments are.

Pat Barker’s Regeneration is a novel based around the inhabitants of Craiglockhart war hospital in Scotland and contains a mixture of fictional characters and fictionalized historical figures, such as Siegfried Sassoon and Captain W.H.R. Rivers. Barker maintains an informed historical perspective on both real and imagined events, along with a fresh approach to the well-trodden ground of novels about the Great War: Regeneration is concerned with the psychological and sociological consequences of war experience, rather than with the battlefield itself.

Barker’s novel can be described as polyphonic: her narrative is presented through a multiplicity of different voices reflecting the personalities, social backgrounds and viewpoints of her characters, meaning the story of the novel is composed of this variety of individual stories. The larger architecture of the novel helps present rounded characters and Barker’s third person narrator is able to dip in and out of their viewpoints using free indirect style, perhaps the dominant narrative technique of the novel. In contrast with Barker’s historical perspective, Siegfried Sassoon wrote most of his poetry contemporaneously with the war and his purpose was to present not only what he had personally experienced but also to make a political point: to help show his opposition to the war’s continuation and to highlight, “political errors”. Not only this, he wanted to elicit sympathy for the suffering soldiers and help raise the public’s attention about what they were going through.

The often short, linguistically dense poems Sassoon wrote are much more emotionally direct than Barker’s more expansive, exploratory text. For example the poem “Enemies” is a nightmarish, imagined encounter between a soldier (likely to be Sassoon’s own brother) stood among the “hulking Germans” the voice of the poem had “shot” and reduced to “patient, stupid, sullen ghosts of men;”. Told almost certainly in Sassoon’s own, authentic, autobiographical voice, the poem show the repercussions of the war on his psychology and imagination. This very hard hitting, inescapably personal approach in Sassoon’s poetry is apparent in his talk of the Germans, “that I shot / When for his death my brooding rage was hot”; a mission of vengenace that the voice finds ultimately unsatisfactory and even unexplainable. It is the dead Germans who, at the conclusion of the poem, can see why they were killed, not because of the voice’s explanations of his anger but “Because his face could make them understand.” It is interesting however, that Rivers theorises that the fictionalized Sassoon of Regeneration may have recovered from war trauma so quickly because his poetry was a “therapeutic” way of him expressing his feelings, helping him to deal with his repressed memories, confused and conflicting emotions of sympathy and hatred and his horrifying nightmares. The reader can certainly see elements of this “therapeutic” bemefit in a poem like “Enemies”.
This tendency of Sassoon to use his own voice, which is often angry and satirical and yet frequently reveals, perhaps accidentally, the complexity of his own psychology and the war’s afects on it, is in contrast with the variety of individual character voices Barker very carefully ‘directs’ in her novel. This is a major point of difference in narrative technique between the novel and the poetry: Sassoon’s voice may be complex, but it always remains recognisably Sassoon’s, whereas Barker’s voice is disguised behind the characters she creates or fictionalizes for the novel. She does this so effectively by using free indirect style, giving her the ability to gain many perspectives on different situations and issues surrounding the war. Also, and perhaps more importantly, her use of free indirect style means she can maintain the advantages of the third person narrative perspective while allowing the reader to distinguish the characters’ voices as she alters her style of writing to correspond with their individual personalities and backgrounds. This helps gain an intimacy with each character and develops a recognizable voice for the reader to identify.

For example, when Sassoon first has a conversation with Rivers at “afternoon tea” for new arrivals we hear his perspective describing the light on the curtains in the room as a “glimmering arc”, the poetic voice used helps the reader know who is talking. This mirrors an image in Sassoon’s poem “The Death Bed” –“Blowing the curtain to a glimering curve”- presenting Barker’s research into capturing a true to life voice for Sassoon. We can see something similar happening in the voice she creates for character of Captain Rivers. For example, as he heads down a little-used corridor at Craiglockhart the narrative voice notes that “Pipes lined the walls……gurgling from time to time like lengths of human intestine”; here, through the medical references used, the reader understands the description to be from Rivers’ viewpoint.

Timothy Marshall, in his discussion of free indirect style in Mikhail Bakhtin’s work Problems of Dostoevvesky’s Poetics, comments that Dostoevsky’s novels contain many voices: “They are so because, in his view, language is constitutively intersubjective (therefore social) and logically precedes subjectivity. It is never neutral, unaddressed, exempt from the aspirations of others. In his word it is dialogic”. This perspective deals with the idea that free indirect style is not the reader overhearing the voice or thoughts of the characters, but that the author is allowing the reader to hear what he wants us to pick up from the character, in order to grasp a better understanding about the individual. This therefore creates for the reader a recognizable voice , and one which we are almost ‘tricked’ into believing is authentic because it is not the same as the author’s narrative voice. Sassoon’s voice in the poem insists that it is authentic because the reader is likely to know Sassoon himslef experienced what he writes about. In contrast, Barker’s voices seem authentic because they are different from each other, makng them seem individual and the novel seem ‘polyphonic’ or ‘dialogic’ in structure.To help grasp a fuller understanding and gain a further insight into how Pat Barker uses free indirect style to help identify voices we can concentrate on one character, Billy Prior. Within Billy Prior’s own individual story, Pat Barker dives into his past and both his sociological and psychological rehabilitation within the novel. We are first introduced to Billy Prior as a mute Second-Lieutenant who can not communicate with anyone apart from through the use of a pen and pad. The way in which Pat Barker presents perhaps not his voice, but certainly his means of communication through the pad is always important, as Prior always writes in capital letters “I DONT REMEMBER”. This when Prior is being asked what his nightmares are about as a way of Rivers helping his rehabilitation. So the introduction to Prior shows him as always being angry through the use of the capital letters on the pad, although Prior himself argues that capitals are simply ‘clearer’ and Rivers thinks he may be trying to disguise his handwriting so it can’t be analysed. Prior is seen as being very much a man not willing to share information about anything purely because he does not “REMEMBER”. Apart form this we at first are not able to gain any more information about Prior at this stage.

You need to go on to Prior’s use of slang, giving his northern working class background away, his unflinching, explicit detail in the hypnosis scene and how that shows he has been made callous by war and how his bitter, angry, working-class way of expressing himself prejudices Rivers against him- see p.49. Also look at how his voice becomes more tender as he falls in love with sarah- even though his intentions at first are just to seduce her- around page 128.

This is shaping up nicely, though!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Chris Matthews- beggining of final draft for friday 5th may, unsure as to how it stands, i.e good/crap, running out of stuff to say in regeneration half of essay fast, FEEDBACK PLEASE, thanks

Compare and contrast the use of different voices in the war poetry of Siegfried Sassoon and Pat Barkers Regeneration.

Pat Barkers novel, Regeneration, was published by Penguin Books, London in 1992. For barker it was a personal conquest of self knowledge of the fact that she could write for male characters as well as female characters, due to the fact that the majority of her work was on working class northern women. Also she was writing on events which had already happened, therefore writing in a historical context and from the memories of others, instead of inventing stories. One of the purposes of the novel was to portray the consequences of the war and living in the trenches instead of writing about the action and death which occurred, and this being the main focus of the novel. Therefore the novel features very little attention on the actual action, and the only scenes which are featured are so, only to explain some of the details of the illnesses as consequences of the war.

The novel, unlike other literary texts, could be described as polyphonic in that its narration is put forward using a range of varying voices, portraying the psychological perspectives and social viewpoints of a mixture of Barkers characters, therefore causing the novel to be a fusion of her characters lives and individual experiences, giving the narration a partially omniscient effect due to the collection of experience and knowledge of self and others, each of the characters bring.

The novel is set in 1917 and centres around Craiglockhart war hospital near Edinburgh, which accommodates soldiers and officers suffering from war neurasthenia or “shell-shock”. the patients in this hospital are a combination of fictionalised historical figures, and fictional characters invented by Barker for this novel. One of such patients and fictionalised historical figures is Siegfried Sassoon, officer in her majesties army, in the time of “the great war”, and accomplished poet. He has been sent to Craiglockhart after writing a declaration of “wilful defiance of military authority”. Within which Sassoon identifies himself as a conscientious objector against the continuation of the war and “the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed”. Sassoon is being treated by RAMC doctor W. H. R. Rivers, with whom a continually fluctuating relationship develops throughout the novel. Pat Barker herself commented that her novel and the Sassoon and Rivers relationship within it was structured as an “S” shape. Meaning that Sassoon and Rivers’ opinions on the continuation of the war and opinions on related things developed within the format of an “S”, with Sassoon on the bottom end and rivers at the top, and they finally meet in the middle. Sassoon is not actually suffering from any illness but has been sent to Craiglockhart nonetheless as he poses a problem for those whom uncertainty within the ranks would pose a huge problem. Therefore it is rivers’ job to make Sassoon think he is neurasthenic and then cure him so he can be sent back to France to fight. He cannot be accused of being unwilling to fight for any other reason which would dismiss his declaration, such as being a coward, as he has proven himself as a very capable and courageous officer already, and has even been awarded a medal.

Regeneration has other purposes than simply showing the change within individuals such as Sassoon and Rivers though. It is also to show societies reaction, and ability to cope throughout the great war, all the way from the soldiers at the front, to working class women back home such as Sarah Lumb. In order for Pat Barker to successfully portray this in her novel, she had to adopt a specific narrative method, in order for her characters to be easily accessible for the audience, both psychologically and socially. Therefore much of the novel regeneration appears in “free indirect style”. This method of narration and Barkers chosen format, give her characters a psychologically transparent form, meaning that readers can observe the psychological development of her characters throughout the novel.

Barkers novel becomes much more effective due to the use of this narrative voice, we see what the character with whom we are currently attached to sees and each of the characters has their own way of seeing things. This can be related to profession or mere personality. For example Rivers has the habit of interpreting experiences and sights from a medical point of view, and also can often be seen using medical terminology to describe things which aren’t remotely medical at all. Sassoon can be seen to be doing the same thing almost as often as Rivers. For example, when Sassoon is on the train on the way to Craiglockhart, he hears the whistle for the passengers to board the train, and then he expects to hear gun fire and people charging over the top. Although with Sassoon it is important to remember such occasions may well be due to the effects of the war on Sassoon’s psychosis, even if it is not full blown neurasthenia.

We can also recognise who’s perspective we are being told the story through comments on other characters close by. Although this is not always obvious it is a sure way of telling whose point of view we are experiencing. For example, if it were from Sassoon’s opinion, we may hear comments on Rivers’ face or body language, “his face seemed dull in the light coming through the window”, and visa versa.

Another use for “free indirect style” by Pat Barker is that, with it we can see exactly what a specific character is seeing, hearing, feeling and thinking, which we may not otherwise see for an identifiable reason, when we look at the time and society Sassoon was living in. in his time, it was unacceptable for any male, and even more unacceptable for Sassoon due to his stature, to show any emotion. Men were expected to keep it to themselves and have a “stiff upper lip”, as it was effeminate to show “too much” emotion.

2:40 PM  
Blogger Mr.D said...

I'll get busy with this, Chris.

5:00 AM  

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