Making close reference to language, imagery and verse form consider the ways in which Owen shows what

war did, not just to men’s bodies but to their minds and spirits. Does Owen present the psychological effects of war more or less effectively here than in other poems from this collection?

With his use of language, imagery and verse form Owen shows the effects of the war on the soldiers; not just their physical affects but especially the mental effects. Owen does this in Mental Cases and certain aspects are also present in other poems. Owen also creates a sense of discomfort and unease for the reader so that they can share the soldiers’ unease and discomfort from the effects of the war. Owen uses animalistic images to show the dehumanisation of the soldiers to show how mentally disturbing the war was; their “drooping tongues” show a lack of physical control. Owen also uses the image of a tortured animal defending itself with “baring teeth”, which suggests that the soldiers are constantly on guard psychologically and aren’t able to relax, by the way that an animal would “bare” its teeth to defend itself. The effect that this has on the reader is that it would not put them at ease; they would therefore become un-relaxed like the soldiers. The idea that the soldiers are always on ‘guard’ gives the impression that war must have been an extremely horrifying experience for it to leave such a heavy impact on the men, to have almost dehumanised them. Owen touches upon specific psychological effects especially memory. Owen personifies memory in “memory fingers” which supports the idea that the soldier’s memories are still haunting him because this phrase is in the present tense. The awful memories of war are always “fingering” in the mind of them – constantly replaying in a nightmarish way. This personification creates a sense of trauma because when someone is in shock or shaken up then an appropriate way of comforting them is to stroke their hair but in this case the memories aren’t stroking the hair – they are poking and prodding the soldier’s hair, which does not comfort but only cause annoyance. Furthermore the ongoing psychological effects of war are represented as “wounds that bleed afresh” each day. Owen uses this image to show the physical wounds from war may have healed but the psychological ones will never, they break afresh every day as if they had just been formed. This suggests a sense of being trapped in a cycle of constant bleeding, wounds bleeding “fresh” blood everyday make the soldier’s experience at war official and eternal. They are never able to forget the war. As well as presenting the idea that war has a formed a permanent haunting effect on the mind (through memories of war) in Mental Cases, Owen also does this in some other poems. For example in Dulce Et Decorum Est, the role of memory creates a haunting vision of war which puts the reader into the nightmares that the soldiers could be suffering, “if you could watch the white eyes writhing”. Owen wants the reader to have nightmares about it, he wants the reader not to forget or overlook them; he wants these images stamped in our minds just like how they are
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forever haunting in the soldier’s minds. Throughout many poems Owen creates a sense of the permanency of war on these soldiers, these soldiers will never forget. In A Terré, Owen makes the link that the soldiers have lost some sense of control with the quote “fingers fidget like ten idle brats” although this shows more of the physical effects of war. Moving on from Owen’s use of imagery, he presents an incredulous disbelieving tone in Mental Cases with his use of rhetorical questions. The speaker is trying to establish his one by asking these questions, to establish the mental effects of war and to shock/scare people about the real harsh realities of war “but who these hellish?” Another tone that Owen presents is one of accusation; Owen makes the reader feel a shared sense of guilt for the soldier’s experiences of war. “Us who smote them brother” Owen shows that everyone is the same and should all share the responsibility and complicity. He tries to obtain these psychological effects for our part of the carnage in war. Additionally Owen’s use of alliteration and assonance reinforces the idea that the war has left a permanent mark on the minds and spirits of the soldiers, because the images of the atrocities at war have been drummed into their minds. The repetition of certain vowels and consonants gives the reader a shared sense of having these images drummed into their heads too, the repetition of harsh ‘b’, ‘p’ and ‘d’ sounds; “panic”, “pain”, “Drooping”, “Batter of guns”. The sibilance also supports this idea with the quite harsh, sharp ‘s’ sounds almost in every line; “ravished”, “sloughs of flesh”, “shatter of flying muscles”. The horrific images of “wading through sloughs of flesh” and the “shatter of flying muscles” shows the extreme terror of the war and to think that these soldiers can recall this event with such detail shows the extent of the impact on their psychological state – if all they see in their minds are these awful images all day every day; this is the effect that Owen wants the reader to have, he does not want us to forget them by the alliteration, assonance. The assonance and alliteration used here links to other poems such as Insensibility as Owen uses the long sounds of ‘l’ and ‘o’ to drag out the rhythm or pace of the poem. The onomatopoeia in Mental Cases, the “batter” and “shatter” also gives the reader a sense of actually being there in the poem, as they can almost hear the action and the sounds of the guns and the bloodshed. This use of onomatopoeia is also present in Insensibility, the “moans” of men. Owen uses verse form to create a sense of disorientation for the reader, also to maintain a level of unease and not being able to relax/no settlement for the reader. The rhyme is disjointed and is difficult to work out an actual rhyme pattern – the disjointed rhyme represents the soldier’s fragmented mental state. When something rhymes it sounds soothing, calm and happy, the realism of the poem not rhyming is highlighting the realism that war is not a soothing, calm and happy place. Having the poem rhyme would not do the deaths justice and would be highly inappropriate for the subject matter. The metre that Owen uses in Mental Cases is trochaic which means the syllables go from stressed to unstressed. This creates a sense of
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emergency/urgency so there is absolutely no settlement for the reader, there is urgency for answers about war. Owen doesn’t want the reader to relax so he doesn’t set a rhythm for metre or rhyme. The immediacy of initial stress suggests that the images are constantly in the face of the soldiers which mean that they won’t ever be put at ease, never able to relax, just like how Owen is creating for the reader. Overall I believe that it is clear that Owen has used imagery, language and verse form to show the extent of the war’s psychological effects on them and to share the harsh realities of being at war and experiencing war with the reader. Owen also explores the horror of war to ultimately loose the heroic image of war as portrayed in the propaganda of it.

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