In the novel Regeneration, Pat Barker examines how the war altered and affected the men involved. Throughout the book, she explores how the horrific experiences of the war caused breakdown and mental illness for many soldiers by including characters that display a number of different neuroses. As well as this she closely looks at relationships and how they were altered over the course of the war. The most prominent way Barker presents the effects that war had on men is through both the psychological and physical damage it inflicted upon them.
Barker uses the fictional characters Prior, Burns, and Willard to explore different aspects of the effect of war; that being mutism, starvation, and paralysis respectively. Through the character of Prior, Barker explores the way mutism can stem from the conflict of a soldier ‘wanting to say something and knowing if they do, the consequences will be disastrous’. Barker uses this to show how many men were psychologically damaged due to the war and their wanting to speak out against it due to the horror, but knowing they can’t due to the repercussions.
Interpersonal relationship Essay Example
Barker writes Prior as an officer, meaning he has authority, but in spite of this, he still has higher powers to answer to and is therefore restricted from what he can say, ultimately resulting in him becoming mute. Barker includes the character of Willard to show a different psychological damage the war has on men, in that his paralysis is psychosomatic and therefore insinuating that his subconscious has been so horrifically damaged as a result of what he has experienced, it ultimately has prevented him from walking.
As well as this, Willard is used as an example of how men, especially those who could not return to war after being injured, became emasculated due to their injuries and their inability to function regularly in daily life. Barker emphasises Willard’s ‘fury at being stranded’ and the feeling of ‘impotence’ that many men felt due to their injuries. Barker likens Willard to ‘a bull seal dragging himself across the rocks’ and this simile is particularly effective as it shows how heavy and strong Willard’s movements are and how contrastingly pathetic he now looks and feels due to this paralysis.
Barker also presents the concept of emasculation in relation to war by including the scene where Sarah, when visiting her friend Madge’s fiance, accidentally ends up in the critical ward. Barker uses this scene to present how women have become ‘infinitely powerful creatures’ that men fear purely because the war had made them feeble and weak in the eyes of women and therefore suffered from the ‘fear of her [Sarah] not looking at them’. This scene is very effective in presenting emasculation as it conveys how Sarah, by being ‘a pretty girl’, is contrasted with the helpless male patients who have been ‘hidden away’.
Barker also uses the relationships between characters to show the effect the war had on men. She uses the friendship between Sassoon and Owen to emphasise how many unlikely bonds were created because of the war. Their friendship also introduces the idea of homosexuality that is a theme throughout the novel. Barker uses their extremely close relationship to explore the idea that during the war, when many men were just forced together to be in each other’s company for such an extended period of time, homosexuality became more common.
The friendship of Sassoon and Rivers, as well as the relationship between Rivers and Prior, also emphasise the homosexual tendencies of some soldiers that developed due to the war. Barker has Rivers say “not bad-looking either” to Sassoon in regards to a waiter. She does this to illustrate how homosexuality had almost become the norm during the war and therefore neither of them felt uncomfortable discussing the aesthetics of another man. The relationships between men and women are also examined in the novel and are used to show how the war changed this aspect of a soldier’s life.
Barker uses the characters Prior and Sarah to explore how rushed relationships became during World War One. Barker has them meet and then become intimate in a very short space of time – ‘he would have preferred not even to know her name’. She does this to show how many men only had short relationships whilst away on leave or back home due to injury. Barker includes the scene between Madge and Sarah, where Madge expresses her hesitation to meet her fiance when he comes home due to injury, in order to express how many relationships changed during the war purely because of physical deformities.
Barker’s describes Madge’s approach to her fiances hospital bed as ‘cautious’ and has her check ‘that the swelling beneath the counterpane was the right length and breadth to consist of two legs’. Barker narrates this section in this way as it shows how women and the rest of society now have the power to inflict the judgement upon soldiers that is it unmanly or disgusting to become disabled during the war.
This can be directly linked back to the soldiers’ fear of Sarah in the critical ward. Barker also uses Prior’s and Sarah’s relationship to explore how the war caused men’s attitudes towards women to change. Through Prior, Barker shows us how soldiers became resentful of those who stayed at home during the war. Barker has Prior realise ‘he both envied and despised’ Sarah, thus showing how a soldier’s jealousy stemmed from a woman’s ability to forget about the war, where as he was stuck with his memories constantly.
The scene at the beach emphasised how much Prior hated civilians – “you wouldn’t think there was a war going on, would you? ” Barker includes it because we can see Prior’s contempt for those who could act so normally. Barker uses Prior’s feelings to show the extent of damage the war did to a person’s mind to cause them to have an immediate dislike to a large majority of people, purely because said people did not experience the horrific things the soldier did.
Throughout the novel Regeneration, Barker uses physical damage and psychological damage (both outwardly displayed illness such as mutism as well as concealed ones, for example, emasculation). She also uses the theme of homosexuality in relationships between men in order to explore how the war changed many of the soldiers. Barker thoroughly explores the ideas of mental damage, relationships and attitudes towards women throughout the novel in order to express the true extent to which the effects of the war had on men.