Niloofar Shamsi T.

Nugyen ENGL103F 10th October 2011

Society & Masculinity in “Disabled” Soldier In “Disabled”, Wilfred Owen writes about a disabled soldier; the soldier remembers his time in „Town‟ before he applied to the army and after he became disabled during war. Before the war, the soldier had much freedom and fun. When he decided to go for war, he was sent with much appreciation and celebration. However, when he came back disabled he wasn‟t welcomed by as much of a parade that had sent him off. The society he had returned to largely viewed him as he had become - a disabled person. Despite the similarities between the soldier and the society he lived in, the soldier was betrayed by the society because his disabilities had made him unlike his society. In this paper, we will work towards understanding the similarities between the soldier and the society through the poems‟ analysis. Before the soldier headed off to war, the soldier lived a relatively peaceful life, was quite popular and aspired to be heroic. The soldier was particularly popular with the ladies. In lines 1112 (“Now he will never feel again how slim / Girls‟ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands”), Owen uses plurals, such as „Girls‟ waists‟ and „their‟, to indicate that the soldier might have touched more than one woman before he headed to the war. We are later introduced to the fact that the soldier is also interested in a young girl by the name of Meg. Later in the poem, we are shown that the soldier was quite athletic before he became disabled. This is emphasized

liberal and inclined towards heroism. Particularly. This is further outlined in lines 32-35. In the era of World War I. it was this penchant for heroism that led the young man to actually enlist as the soldier. authority. power and prestige. i. It should also be noted that bleeding in football matches meant being a hero in the preWorld War I era (Pigg 92). primarily.e. wherein it is illustrated that the soldier used to play football and often used to get hurt. the society is also quite jolly. in which the poem is set. genders had specifically assigned roles. An interesting point to note is that the soldier used to prefer this form of hurt and bleeding in football matches. the soldier joined the army to impress a woman. the thoughts of money. Noticeably. the most important manner in which society back then could be aligned to the soldier‟s character is that it placed special emphasis on masculinity (Jessica 64). As such. a military uniform.”).specifically in the lines 21-23 (“One time he liked a blood-smear down his leg / after the matches carried shoulder-high. which came with being in the army. The soldier‟s desire to become heroic precisely reflects this notion of masculinity. Moreover. In addition to having a specific focus on male masculinity. lured the soldier to enlisting himself. gain authority and become heroic. It should be realized that this was a time when women did not possess their constitutional rights. His preference for being popular and heroic was elevated by someone‟s suggestion that he would look better in a kilt. although Own states that the soldier joined the army to impress a young girl. and as such for women to roam freely at night . The plurality of hurt is illustrated by the use of „matches‟ in line 22. it can be said that the soldier had a penchant for heroism. In other words. But this was not the only reason. This is particularly illustrated in lines 7-10: “About this time Town used to swing so gay / When glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees / And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim”. Men were largely supposed to be in charge of masculine tasks and as such were supposed to be mentally and physically strong.

he wasn‟t welcomed back in a similar manner. Giller. Moreover. outlines how the soldier does not gain as much attention from women.meant that the society of the „Town‟ was quite liberal. not being able to move independently was not the only thing that frustrated the soldier. where the value of life is meaningless. He had lost all athleticism and freedom of movement that he had previously possessed. Even the ladies touched him like he was some form of a “queer disease”. Yet his situation was such that if he had to get on or off the wheelchair he was entirely dependent on someone‟s help. and Summerfield 1073-82). Of course this created frustration. Although the soldier was sent to war triumphantly. He was also frustrated about not being able to acquire female attention. As such. the society of the Town bid him farewell with “drums and cheers”. time and again. To this extent. and which leads to even more . soldiers who are disabled from war are often subject to emotional turmoil and weaknesses (Bracken. However. the society of the „Town‟ was a peaceful one which encouraged heroism and masculinity. “Through the park / Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn”. Owen. soldiers are introduced to an environment of constant death and injury. This simultaneously makes a person even more emotionally unstable. This makes them liable to being victims of depression and self-doubt. when the soldier was to leave for war. the society itself valued heroism as much as the soldier desired for it. particularly in lines 11-13 and 43-44. This is illustrated by the end of the poem as the soldier is not go to sleep as someone has to come and get him off his wheelchair. Mainly. which caused the soldier grief and sadness as illustrated in line 3-4. the soldier had lost both his legs (as mentioned in line 3) and moved through the help of wheelchair. this emotional condition is only exacerbated by social treatment of most disabled soldiers. There were no “drums and cheers” that welcomed him back but rather only one person came to inquire about his health and thank him for his effort. Moreover. In addition to this. Physically.

tried to dissuade people from it.harmful societal attitudes and treatment. . and as such the society deemed him physically and emotionally weak. they were viewed as weak or „sissies‟. He underwent severe physical and emotional disability. facing first-hand experiences of war. This is what happened with the soldier in “Disabled”. they were generally assumed to have an excess of masculinity within them. For the returning soldier. However. those who protect the society through war are often the ones who are left redundant by war. When this seemed to be largely amiss. In “Disabled”. In cases. Indeed this is the irony of war. More often. if not physically weak. This sudden change towards the soldier who was sent off to war with “drums and cheers” might seem confusing. As these men were supposed to be battlehardened. We have earlier discussed that the society in which the soldier lived was one which strived on the principles of masculinity. we have seen above that effect of war on soldiers often leave them emotionally vulnerable. The issue with the British society‟s treatment of returning soldiers in WW1 era was that it expected soldiers to be paradigms of masculinity. society seemed to lose interest in soldiers and focused on other aspects where masculinity was more prominent. To this extent. where physical disability is caused by war. the effects of emotionally vulnerability are only much more intense. “Disabled” illustrated the society‟s varying treatment of the soldier before he joins the army and after he returns from the war. the society still very much practiced freedom and pursued masculinity amongst men. These weaknesses took away from his masculinity and as such made him redundant to the society. the society had very much become his anti-thesis. Wilfred Owen tried to explain the uselessness of war through its negative effect on the soldier. but the underlying reason is rather simple. These changes in societal attitudes are highlighted in “Disabled”. when soldiers. Whereas the disabled soldier was restricted and unable to be masculine.

"Psychological responses to war and atrocity: The limitations of current concepts." Social Science & Medicine. British popular culture and the First World War. Brill Publishing. 40. . Jessica.2 (1997): 91-95. and Derrick Summerfield. Print.References  Bracken. 55. Joan Giller. "Owen's Disabled.  Pigg.8 (1995): 107382. Print. Patrick.  Meyer. Daniel. 2008." Explicator. Print.

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