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It is set in World War I England and it centers on the experiences of Dr. Rivers, a military psychologist. Dr. Rivers treats patients using Freudian psychoanalysis. His patients experience hallucinations, and various psychosomatic symptoms such as mutism. Sassoon is an officer who refuses to fight on principle and shows no signs of insanity like Dr. Rivers’s other patients do. Dr. Rivers establishes himself as a fatherly (or in some cases motherly) figure in order to get his patients to talk about what happened to them so that they can overcome their symptoms and return to the war. In one case, a soldier was sent to him to be cured of homosexuality. This particular patient was not insane, but he broke a state mandate that all soldiers be heterosexual. All of River’s patients need to return to the war because the state tells them that it is wrong to not fight in the war. In the end, even Sassoon acquiesces to the state’s mandate that he fight. This novel drives home the message that concepts of power begin in the family. The trenches and the patients relationship with Dr. Rivers is constantly being compared to the relationship between a child and their father or mother. As the novel goes on it illustrates how the state imposes its will on the sex lives of its citizens. Dr. Rivers tells Sassoon to keep his private life private or else he could be punished for having homosexual tendencies. A soldier is sent to a psychiatric hospital to be cured of homosexuality. A woman is scolded by a doctor when her abortion gets botched. Dr. Rivers theorizes that there is a kind of biblical contract where people pledge undying allegiance to a state so that some day they can be part of the state and others will pledge
undying allegiance to them. Another psychologist, Dr. Yelland, uses his power to torture people into submission to the state through the use of electroshock and cigarette burns. Dr. Rivers creates the same results as Dr. Yelland but in a more humane way. By the end of the novel Dr. Rivers himself sees himself as a cog in the wheel of government and that his function is to help to enforce the idea that it is wrong to not fight in the war. He is not satisfied that his role in the war is ethical and therefore resolves to rebel in some manner. Sassoon behaves inconsistently when he decides to go back to war. Throughout the book, he was telling people that if they do not believe in the war then they should protest the war like he was. At the end of the book he goes back to fight even though he still disagrees with the war. The descriptions of the relationship between family and power seemed structuralist to me, in that the deep structure of power originates in the family. The role of the mentally ill and the dangerous individual reminded me of some of the writings of Foucault. Foucault said that some individuals do not fit into the state’s system of power. These individuals must be brought to heel or be destroyed by the state. The state does this through indoctrination, but when that fails prisons and asylums are used. At the same time, Foucault said that the power of the state can not exist without these dangerous individuals. One famous quote from Foucault is that, “resistance presupposes power.” This means that if there were no resistance then power would be obedience, which is a different dynamic that can not be described as power. Resistance and power are symbiotic. This is reflected in “Regeneration” when Sassoon, the dangerous individual, returns to the front. Now he can be held up as an example by the state when they tell people that even if they disagree with the war, it is their responsibility to fight in it.