The Great War touched every aspect of British society and altered it beyond recognition. On the one hand home society progressed with a new role being forged for women and censorship clouding the civilian mind as to the true nature of the combat experience. On the other, men suffering the unimaginable hardships of the front could not maintain their peacetime identities. As each group readjusted to a new order they, on the most part, failed to comprehend that changes would occur elsewhere. Soldiers expected to return to the unchanged homes of their youth and civilians expected chivalric heroes of old to come back to them. Both were shocked at the realities with which they were confronted.

This discourse will offer examples of the incompatibility between the concept and reality of the home and the front. A most striking difficulty to adjust to was the physical appearance of so many men who before the war were handsome and robust.

In Regeneration, Pat barker offers her reader many examples of the physical deformities incurred by the casualties of war. One particularly effective instance is when Sarah enters the room of amputees in the medical hospital. She is shocked by the appearance of “figures that were no longer the shape and size of adult men” (Regeneration, 160) and disgusted that they have been hidden from “where their mutilations might have been seen by passers-by” (Regeneration, 160).

Civilians were kept deliberately ignorant of the full atrocities of the conflict, probably so that they would still support the campaign. But this had the effect of distancing soldier and civilian and so the spheres of home and the front. With the newspaper propaganda that colored the perceptions of the English public it is not surprising that they would be shocked when presented with service men that have been so wholly altered. Burns’ parents spend very little time with him because he is “not a sight for sore eyes” (Regeneration, 171). His father is “a great believer in the war” (Regeneration, 171) but cannot deal with the reality of its cost. This shows that it is difficult for the soldier to return from the environment of the front and fit in at home.

In Journey’s End Raleigh provides Sherriff’s audience with an example of the way new officers behaved when pushed into an alien situation, and how those at the front who were once like them reacted. The boy is fresh from public school education and brings to the trench forgotten values of sportsmanship. For Raleigh everything is related to Rugger, he admires Stanhope because “He was skipper at Rugger” (Journey’s End, 31), his respect increases for Osborne when he learns he played for England once and thinks it would make the men “feel jolly bucked” (Journey’s End, 59). Even when he is mortally wounded he compares it to a Rugger injury, “I got kicked in just the same place” (Journey’s End, 132).

This is an example of how the pursuits of home influence a man’s behavior at the front when he first arrives. It is made clear to him that an aspect of home life like sport “doesn’t make much difference out here” (Journey’s End, 59) but the boy clings to the life he had. Sherriff’s use of characters highlights the changes that the front can bring about on a young man. Raleigh represents the man Stanhope once was and would have been without the war. Raleigh says that Stanhope punished some schoolboys for drinking whiskey (Journey’s End, 29) but Hardy’s image of the Captain is of a lad who “drank a whole bottle in one hour fourteen minutes” (Journey’s End, 19). Stanhope’s reaction to Raleigh’s presence is negative and extreme, a lad who was his friend at home he refers to as “a little prig” (Journey’s End, 49) at the front. This severe response can be attributed to the fact that Raleigh closely represents Stanhope’s life at home; he’s even the brother of the officer’s sweetheart. The harsh contrast between the two men serves to show how much the front changes a man and Stanhope does not wish to be constantly reminded that he no longer fits in with his old life.

Sherriff reveals Stanhope’s plan to “go away for months…and get fit – and then go back” (Journey’s End, 48) to his life and his girl, but Raleigh’s arrival makes it clear that his past identity is irretrievable. The front has altered the man beyond hope of being reconciled to his pre-war home life. Both works may be classed historical fictions, that is, “A form of fictional narrative which reconstructs history and re-creates it imaginatively”.

It is interesting that one is written by a man who experienced what he was writing, and that he chose a play to express his memories. Journey’s End is set entirely in a dug out and captures the claustrophobic sense of trench warfare. Conversely, Barker looks back in hindsight to write her work, and sets it in a hospital. It could be argued that this conveys the sense of claustrophobia felt by the returning soldier that he could not escape from the life altering effects of the conflict experience.

One can consider a soldier’s readjustment to civilian life as a measure for the relationship between home and the front. At the front a soldier hopes to pick up where he left off but Barker makes it clear that in some cases this is impossible. Anderson needs to return to being a civilian doctor to support his wife and child but his experience at the front caused him to develop an “extreme horror of blood” (Regeneration, 31). This lack of ability to support his family makes his relationship with his wife strained. The experience of the front causes fissures in the stable relationships of pre-war home life. Rivers observes that, “If Anderson could see no way out of returning to the practice of a profession which must inevitably, even in civilian life, recall the horrors he’d witnessed in France, then perhaps he was desperate enough to have considered suicide” (Regeneration, 31).

Here Barker explores the idea of it being truly impossible for the soldier to readjust to home life and that death is the only way to escape the feelings of inadequacy. It is almost inconceivable that Stanhope seems to genuinely wish that he and Raleigh would die at the front so that Madge “goes on thinking [he’s] a fine fellow forever” (Journey’s End, 49). A soldier would wish death on himself and anyone who could let his sweetheart know that he is not the epitome of chivalry he would have her think. This is only one example of the altered view of death at the front. At home a man would avoid injury but at the front it was common for men to take risks that would lead to death, and thus an escape from the war, or a “Blight” wound that would send them home. Burns would go out on patrol because it was “the best chance of getting a good wound” (Regeneration, 183), men would hope for “a nice neat hole in the arm” (Regeneration, 183) and would “Cry for joy” (Regeneration, 183) to be going home.

Civilians could not hope to understand a man who would be happy to be wounded thus and so relations between the two factions would be strained. It is odd to think that the war created a kind of civil war between those who had been completely changed by the front and those who could not comprehend the change.

 Another arresting image is that of the treatment of the dead at the front, “Corpses…Used to strengthen parapets, to prop up sagging doorways” (Regeneration, 173). A civilian would not be able to condone what seems like such disrespect for the dead, but to the soldier it was necessary. Barker presents her reader with scenes that are just as they would be in peacetime but for the deficiency of male youth. Prior goes to the seaside, “In his khaki, he moved among them like a ghost” (Regeneration, 127), he does not belong in situations where “You wouldn’t think there was a war on” (Regeneration, 128).

Another such scene is when Rivers goes to church and the congregation is made up of “Children…middle-aged or elderly men, and women”, the male youth are conspicuous by their absence. The reason for this could be because they are mostly at the front, but another explanation may be moral. Owen verbalizes the dilemma of a soldier, “I don’t think it’s possible to c-call yourself a C-Christian and … and j-just leave out the awkward bits” (Regeneration, 83). Soldiers would not call themselves pacifists on a principle of honor, like Sassoon, he has written his Declaration but does not consider he a pacifist because of the stigma attached to that word.

That is to say those pacifists refused to fight and that was “bad form”, soldiers would not suffer to be thought of as not demonstrating “gentlemanly behavior”. Perhaps an explanation for the absence from church of service men that could be on leave or home service is that “if they were going to call themselves Christian, they’d have to call themselves a pacifist as well” (Regeneration, 83). Barker makes it clear that Sassoon has “an absolutely corrosive hatred of civilians” (Regeneration, 16). This is an observation made by Rivers based on his conversation with Sassoon in which he expresses contempt towards “the old men you see sitting in clubs, cackling on about “attrition”” (Regeneration, 14).

This phrase is particularly noteworthy because a word like “attrition” is meaningless in the reality of trench warfare. The gulf between those at the front and those at home is expressed even in the language used. The reason for his hostility to civilians is made clear when he goes on to say, “You don’t talk like that if you’ve watched them die” (Regeneration, 14), the reader can feel naught but sympathy for a character who has obviously suffered beyond the comprehension of those old men.

This opinion is cemented for the reader when Sassoon ventures to River’s club and he feels “a well-practiced hatred begins to flow” (Regeneration, 113), almost as if it courses through his veins. It is interesting to note that Sassoon is “aware of something sexual in this anger” (Regeneration, 114), as if not only age and service but also virility separates him from these misinformed gentlemen. This is an extreme reaction to the death of a comrade and perhaps its pronounced and somewhat inappropriate channel is as a result of having experienced so much loss.

 It is clear that each of the men he is focusing on have suffered anxiety over there sons, who have signed up, but that is only one person each to consider whereas Sassoon has the weight of a whole company on his mind, and so many others he has served with since the war began. Perhaps the common way of grieving has become redundant for Sassoon and he has been forced to channel it other ways, to resort to instinctive reactions like comparing virility as perhaps a baser animal might. That is to say that fighting and killing, as Sassoon has had to, requires animalistic qualities such as survival at any cost, that would perhaps begin to surface in civilian life as well, and it would be difficult to separate the two. Especially when Sassoon cannot escape the war because he is constantly reminded by his “repeated bereavements” (Regeneration, 118). But his hatred is not confined to old club-dwelling men, “he hated everybody, giggling girls, portly middle-aged men” (Regeneration, 43), the only people he can tolerate are soldiers who have experienced the front lines as he has.

It is clear that this experience has caused Sassoon to become completely alienated from anybody who has not shared his experience, he does not simply dislike civilians, he hates, note the severe and absolute nature of the emotion. He also hates women, but a soldier’s reaction to women is better considered in relation to prior. His blossoming relationship with Sarah highlights not only relationships with civilians but with the women they were encouraged to fight the war for.

Prior is a vehicle of expressing the misconceptions soldiers had of the women they were returning to, and therefore the gulf that widened between the sexes in peacetime. Having fought the war for women Prior, like so many others, felt “They owed him something, all of them, and [Sarah] would pay” (Regeneration, 128). This resentment left men feeling they could treat women as sex objects by way of payment for the trauma they suffered. Another problem is the way that women have been earning a living during the war; an ex-serviceman may find it difficult to have a relationship with a woman who has made the bombs that did such horrible things “to flesh and bone” (Regeneration, 89). Prior had only just met Sarah and he could not think of her job, which was so liberating for she and her sex, without “his mind bulging as a memory threatened to surface” (Regeneration, 89). A stable relationship cannot be based on suppression of self or resentment. It could be said that the war did not stop in 1918 because its effect on inter-sex relations was ongoing in civilian life.

A common assumption was that women would never comprehend what exactly happened at the front and the strain it had on their men. Prior notes that the reason for secrecy was “they didn’t want them to worry” (Regeneration, 216), but he confesses, if only to himself, that “He needed her ignorance to hide in” (Regeneration, 216). By taking refuge in a woman’s unawareness a soldier does not have to constantly confront the horrors of war. The problem with this state is that, by not telling her, the soldier will erect a barrier between himself and his partner and will never “be known as deeply as possible” (Regeneration, 216), as any human being craves from an intimate relationship.

It must be understood that this idea the soldier retains of a woman is not an accurate picture but a social mound it is assumed that they fit without exception. Perhaps these false pictures the sexes created of each other, the soldiers expecting no change and the women expecting chivalric heroes, was the cause of a marked change in divorce rates after the war. A strong contrast can be drawn between Regeneration and Journey’s End because the view of women has not yet altered in the latter. Stanhope is fighting “to make Madge pleased” (Journey’s End, 47); his inspiration is to fight for the safety and integrity of a woman he loves because she is, in her previously defined role, helpless. Again this corresponds with action you may see in other animals driven by instinct, in order to gain a mate the male must be seen as able to defend the female and any off spring.

This is further cemented when one takes into account the act of women issuing white feathers to men who did not physically appear to have a reason for not going to fight, as with Burns (Regeneration, 147), and the effect this would have on a male’s social standing. A single sex environment will invariably cause social boundaries to be broken down in the face of needing to fulfill a basic want. It is through Rivers that Barker voices the concept that “The war that had promised so much in the way of ‘manly’ activity had actually delivered ‘feminine’ passivity” (Regeneration, 107). It is in response to the “domestic” (Regeneration, 107) relationship that forms between comrades and the caring roles older or more senior men take on for their companies.

This can be illustrated by Osborne’s role in Sherriff’s play, he is nicknamed “Uncle” by the other officers but when he puts Stanhope to bed the lad responds with feminine imagery, “Make you little apron – with lace on it” (Journey’s End, 50). It is another example of redundant social stereotyping, it is a belief that a man cannot be masculine if he shows affection for anyone other than his mother, and to care for someone is a purely feminine occupation. It seems absurd to be a society acutely conscious of the maternal instinct but to entirely ignore the paternal.

River’s also discusses “emotional repression, as the essence of manliness”, that “Men who…cried…were sissies, weaklings, failures” (Regeneration, 48). When it is written in that way the reader would find it hard to hold with such a ridiculous concept. Continuing from this, the reader may like to consider the way his patients relate to Rivers. At first glance it appears they adopt him as a father figure but on closer inspection it is something else entirely. Layard had described the doctor as “a sort of…male mother” (Regeneration, 107). Prior also notes how River’s role in his life is the same as his mother’s and thinks it is a “worse fate” (Regeneration, 210) than being thought of as “Daddy” (Regeneration, 210). 

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I am a Shakespeare fanatic with six years` classroom experience. I enjoy reading a wide range of fiction and non-fiction and became a teacher to share my passion for language. Now that I have a young family, I have decided to indulge my love of teaching outside the classroom to fit arou.... Read More