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Explore and compare the ways both authors use language to create effects in Regeneration and Wilfred Owen’s war poetry, in particular their use of imagery to convey the experience of war. Wilfred Owen’s poetry is among the most moving poetry of WWI. It shatters the illusion of glory of war, revealing its hollowness and cruel destruction of beauty. Owen’s work shows war’s most inhuman and savage face. In order to do this, Owen uses a wide range of literary devices. We can appreciate a very effective imagery in his poetry, which manages to transmit the reader all the suffering men had to go through in the trenches of WWI. Pat Barker’s novel Regeneration explores men’s war experiences in order to capture the horrors of war. She also uses very effective imagery, full of symbolism to show how war mentally affected men, dehumanising them. Barker’s use of imagery helps the reader empathise with the soldiers’ suffering and understand the consequences these horrors had. Wilfred Owen’s imagery’s objective is to transmit emotions to the reader. He wants to situate him in the trenches, to panic with the soldiers, to suffer with them, but overall, he wants the reader to feel pity and sorrow for the innocent men’s souls that were lost unnecessarily. His poem “Dulce et Decorum est” questions with irony, from a sarcastic point of view, the glory of war. Owen situates the reader through the use of similies and metaphors. He dehumanises the soldiers through visual and aural imagery, presenting the supposed heroes as “bent double, like old beggars” “knock-kneed, coughing like hags”. From the start, Owen introduces us men who are isolated from society, hopeless, exhausted “drunk with fatigue”, dirty “blood-shod”, weak “lame”. This description is followed by a second stanza where Owen makes the reader dive into a “green sea” of panic. The reader can hear the shouts, the assonance, “Gas! Gas! Quick!”. The metaphor “an ecstasy of fumbling” enables him to visualise the description of the reaction to the attack which strongly contrasts with the beginning of the poem. Owen then uses imagery so that the reader can share a soldier’s pain and understand his suffering. The reader can hear him “yelling and stumbling” “like a man in fire or lime”, the simily helps the reader visualise the horrible pain while he accompanies the soldier till he asphyxiates to death “drowning under a green sea”. The reader can visualise the “thick green light” and is haunted by the sound of the man “guttering” and “choking”. He can sense the “incurable sores” because it is the description of a physical injury and understand the pain. Owen narrates as a witness, and by describing what he saw and what he heard, the reader can share his experience and is haunted by the same horrors as him: “if in smothering dreams you too could pace behind the wagon that we flung him in , and watch the white eyes writhing in his face”. He’s most effective metaphor is the comparison of the boy’s face: “like a devil’s sick of sin” the pain is so unbelievable that even the devil is tired of so much suffering, death and cruelty. Barker’s characters, on the other hand, are physically good looking and clean “admiring glances”, however they are still mentally exhausted and weak. While Owen uses imagery to describe directly and effectively impactating war horrors, Barker exposes the long-term consequences that they had. She explores the mental conflict that men had after going through such devastating experiences. Her use of imagery enables the reader understand, through symbolism these conflicts, the mental state they were left in, the reasons why they broke down, and what horrors haunted them. In chapter 4, Anderson, a surgeon that served in France tells Rivers his nightmare, which is full of imagery and symbolism in order to help the reader understand his feelings. Anderson broke down after a period when he used to do an average of ten
amputations a day, he’s a respectable doctor who has a wife and a five-year old kid to care of. However, he’s developed a trauma towards blood. He’s worried about emasculation and this theme, one of the centrals to the book is evoqued through symbolism throughout his dream. He looses his uniform, symbolising authority, control, militarism, duty, all manly virtues infront of his wife who’s dressed in white representing purity and innocence. She can see him naked, discovering the nature of his breakdown which she really ignores: he’s fear towards blood. This shows the reader how vulnerable, unprotected and exposed men felt when men suffered neurasthenia because of having gone through a traumatic war experience. Men tried to hide their emotions, Anderson actually hides behind a bush, because emotions were considered a feminine privilege and he’s ashamed of his. However, in Rivers’ words “the war that had promised so much in the way of ‘manly’ activity had actually delivered ‘feminine’ passivity, this most brutal of conflicts should set up a relationship between officers and men that was domestic, caring and maternal”. In the dream Anderson is chased by his father in law representing society’s pressure to confront reality. He waves “a big stick” with “ a snake wound around it” the snake is representing the sin Anderson believes he’s committing if he doesn’t keep saving lives as a surgeon. A stick, being used as a flail, represents the punishment he will receive from society. The hiss of the snake shows the reader how it’s mocking at him: the reader understands how pathetic Anderson feels as a surgeon who fears blood. Anderson is then ridiculised with the image of him tied up with ladies corsets, emasculating him and then carted of, as Owen’s character as if he were useless because he’s injured, although as we know, the wound is not physical but mental. The difference is this time it is not a physical injury but a mental one. “ the doors of the carriage banged shut and it was very dark” the violent sound instils the reader fear, suggesting aggressiveness and finality and the dark atmosphere emphasises the character’s sense of fear and hopelessness. Rivers is wearing a “post-mortem apron” which communicates the idea of an analysis of the dead. Rivers is going to dissect him, to expose his emotions in order to help Anderson understand who he is. That represents how lost men were and how afraid to find themselves. In this passage we can see how Barker uses imagery to explain the mental consequences of war. However, through the book, she also uses imagery to show the physical consequences of war. Sarah sees a room full of people that have lost their limbs and are now hidden from a society that doesn’t want to witness the atrocities war has caused to the men that fought to defend it. Barker obliges us to witness them and to understand like in “Dulce et Decorum est” how little they had to do with honour and glory. In “anthem for a doomed youth” we can see how Owen insisted on telling the cruel truth in a constant protest against war. The poem opens showing us the battlefield as a slaughter house showing how men died “as cattle”. So from the start the reader can visualise the savageness of war. The scene could become gruesome but Owen prevents this by focusing on the sounds It is a parody of a funeral rite, enacted by the noise of guns, rifles and “wailing shells”. There is a sharp, satiric contrast between the peaceful sounds of an Anglo-Catholic burial and the demented and monstrous noises of the warfare. Owen uses the iambic pentameter rhythm and the repetition of a stressed vowel followed by the sound of the letter n represents the steady thundering of the guns “only” “monstrous” “anger” “guns”, while the alliteration “rapid rattle” “rifles” combined with the sound of the letter “t” “stutter”, “rattle” “patter”, represents the crack of gunfire. All these different noises situate the reader in the middle of the battlefield, introducing him in war’s atmosphere, intensifying his experience. The noise and violence of the battlefield stand in contrast to the private, patient, silent grieving.
In Regeneration Pat Barker also refers to the men that lost their life in the trenches. In chapter 4 another one of River’s patients goes through an experience by which Barker shows, once more through symbolism, the effects these slaughters had on soldiers. Burns has neurasthenia because he landed, after an explosion, on a decaying body of a soldier who ha died due to chlorine gas. Burns escapes one afternoon and goes to a forest. There he imagines a tree full of dead animals which represent his dead comrades in the slaughters in the trenches. Burns puts the animals in a circle around the tree. The tree represents knowledge, in the middle of the life cycle. This rite represents a burial, a funeral for burn’s dead comrades. Burns stays inside the circle in the foetal position protected and safe from his fears. He’s said to be “as white as a root” representing the beginning of life the purity and the innocence. All this rite, fruit of Burns' hallucination, allows him to come into contact with nature and conceal his mind about the deaths he’s witnessed. He takes off his clothes to give up the last chain that society puts on him to feel a total liberation in order to be in peace with his comrades in their was to the next life. The whole passage brings out, through an effective imagery and symbolism the idea of Regeneration, through the representation of the life cycle, meaning continuity. Again, Barker uses these devices to help the reader understand the mental problems soldiers suffered from as a consequence of war horrors. In conclusion, while Wilfred Owen uses a strong imagery in order to transmit through descriptions the horrors of war in a direct way, Pat Barker also wants to reflect war’s cruelty but she’s more focused on describing through imagery and symbolism the consequences that experiencing these horrors had for men, specially the mental ones. Both use these devices in order to get through their ideas to the reader, emphasising them and making them easier to understand for someone who didn’t live these horrors. That way they they make sure they won’t be forgotten and repeated.