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Explore the ways in which the three texts present the suffering of soldiers in the war.

World War One is known as “the war to end all wars”[1]. The war cultured “extreme suffering” which inspired many writers. The war also aided the advancement of attitudes towards the emotionality of men. Individual suffering is manipulated to intensify the pain by isolating singular characters. Sacrifices of the men force the reader into an uncomfortable atmosphere. Sebastian Faulks’ Bildungsroman Birdsong highlights the suffering of individual to understate that of the masses. Regeneration, written by Pat Barker in 1991, uses factual occurrences of Sassoon and Owen’s lives in Craiglockhart to detail historic experiences of suffering. The poetry features both pro and anti-war perspectives from historical figures featured within Regeneration. Birdsong emotively persuades readers that individual anguish has detrimental effects on soldier’s lives intensifying their suffering. The texts use third person narrative to create emotive circumstances which manipulate the reader into understanding the suffering as either mass or individual. The writers’ portrayal of individual suffering was the most poignant compared to the subversion of widespread suffering.

The texts expose the stigmatization of physical disability as a cause of individual suffering. Historically, the dependence of disabled life reflects the burden faced by soldiers of returning to normality. Wilfred Owen’s poem Disabled explores the first-hand impacts and consequences of war, coupled with the persistent individual suffering. Owen became infamous during the war as his poetry extracted the distorted views of the home-front and revealed reality. The metaphor, “put them to bed”[2] symbolizes the individual suffering caused by dependence, and also the neglect caused through others’ ignorance to their needs. The dependence of disabled soldiers is emphasized through “wheeled chairs”[3] combined with the realism generated by colloquial language. The distortion of time explores the disruption of perceptions and hopelessness caused by trauma. Similarly, Faulks separates sections of Birdsong in eras to emphasize the disruption of time for soldiers. Faulks disrupts the time flow by segregating modern and historical versions of suffering which differentiates reality of ordeals for the readers. Contrastingly Sassoon’s poem ‘Does it Matter’ subverts the traumatic physical injuries through a patronizing and sarcastic narrator. The narrator subtly criticizes the stigmatization of men who don’t fight as cowards. Regeneration stigmatizes physical trauma as unsightly, “not at the front of the hospital where their mutilations might have been seen by passers-by”[4]. Sarah Lumb is “unable to go forward” [5] through the shock of the disabled soldiers. This paralysis is microcosmic of the historical reaction to war mutilation. Readers sympathize with Sarah Lumb as she describes the disabled soldier’s hollow eyes with: “if it contained anything at all it was fear”[6], causing shock through the absence of normality. The exposure of the soldier causes disgust as the jingoistic propaganda distorts the perception of soldiers after war. Wilfred Owen’s ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ attacks war propaganda using distorted iambic pentameter creating unease within the poem symbolizing the distorted stigmatized meaning of war for the soldiers. The subversion of the traditional sonnet develops hatred towards the war for the reader as typically sonnets symbolise affection. Language and structural changes expose the aim to incite the reader’s anger and initiate against the “prolonged war”[7]. The texts reveal that stigmatization of disability causes “extreme suffering”[8] on an individual basis as soldiers are pre-conceived as monsters through their mutilation.
The ignorance of all those observing the war is acknowledged as imposing the suffering upon soldiers. Feminist critics believe the emphasis of female ignorance is unjust since patriarchal society blinded women through forcing male agendas upon them, to encourage the continuous supply of soldiers. This interpretation reflects historical attitudes towards women as they disregarded in the minds of men. Similarly, Birdsong intensifies the ignorance towards disability through Elizabeth’s visit to Brennan. Elizabeth wishes to “restore poor Brennan’s life or take away the pity of the past,”[9] yet is ignorant to his history, Elizabeth microcosmically represents women’s naivety to the war. The ambiguity of Brennan’s speech represents different perspectives influenced by misunderstanding which cultured ignorant opinions as others were rejected. Misinterpretation of Brennan’s speech creates dramatic irony as the reader can understand his language due to prior reading. Faulks creates “no patronizing pretentions to understanding what trench life was truly like”[10] through the omniscient narrator who doesn’t force direct assumptions upon the reader, instead offers understanding of usually misinterpreted situations. Symbolizing the armistice, “fireworks[11]” also figuratively represents the battle of the Somme where “cock ups”[12] caused unnecessary suffering in both Faulks’ fiction and historical terms. Faulks uses direct speech to overstate the divide of the ages, creating a barrier between generations due to experiences of suffering; “such fireworks. We was all there, the whole street”[13]. The use of “the whole street” [14] represents historically that the trenches were named after streets in London following the miners’ development of Z shaped systems to aid protection of the soldiers. However, it could also represent the celebration at the announcement of the war’s end. Alternatively, the barrier presents physical trauma as devastating through developing disruption to the mind. The novelists use hindsight to express the individual sufferings caused through factual occurrences such as collapses of tunnels and the Somme. Poems, being contemporary to the War, lack the hindsight that both novels, written decades later, use to implement their ideas. Freud believed “we are not entitled to compare them with the evils of other times which we have not experienced”[15] which explains the creation of disrupted relationships between the ages due to soldiers’ experiences. Freud also interprets why readers are unable to reject the ignorance projected onto veterans as modern contexts of experiences are limited. Freud would object to Faulks’ and Barker’s interpretation of the war experience claiming naivety through lack of experience. Sassoon’s poem ‘Does it Matter’ subverts the traumatic physical injuries through a patronizing and sardonic narrator. He opens rhetorically, “Does it matter? – losing your legs”[16] humorously underlining Sassoon’s opinions of wartime ignorance. The sardonic narrator goes on to mockingly soothe readers as “people will always be kind” [17] which further supports inevitable individual suffering through ignorance. The opening scene of Regeneration features Sassoon’s ‘A Soldiers Declaration’ in which he expresses his opinions surrounding the suffering. He strongly believes that, “the war is being deliberately prolonged by those who have the power to end it”[18] vulgarly criticizing the government and causing shock to contemporary readers. His ‘Declaration’ followed meetings with pacifists in which all believed the pain and suffering was unjust. Siegfried Sassoon, distinguished anti-war veteran, causes resentment against the home front to grow through isolating individual soldiers, who are becoming martyrs as others are “summering safe at home”[19]. Fluctuations in ignorance towards the war are highlighted through elements of the poetry. This is dependent on the progression of the war in terms of fighting, for example Owen’s Futility represents a time of high ignorance dictating more suffering for soldiers. The readers’ are shown that ignorance imposes suffering upon individuals in war through the marginalization of their distorted lives.

Mental degeneration is seen as inflicting individual suffering upon soldiers through the distressing and dangerous manifestation of symptoms. The extremities of mental suffering confront the reader to consider not only the individual effect but also external consequences. Over 40% of the total injuries in World War One, by 1916, were shell shock, influencing the writers’ emphasis of mental illness. Mental Cases utilizes visual and auditory hallucinations during the war such as “always they must see these things and hear them”[20]. The adverb “always”[21] reveals the continuous suffering incurred which is furthered by visual and auditory hallucinations being the most dangerous and common symptom. The biographical context of Owen suffering this symptom emotively moves the reader as he writes “I have suffered seventh hell”[22] and that he is “Three-quarters dead, I mean each of us ¾ dead”[23] representing his unending torment. Owen reflects that he is “Three-quarters dead”[24] throughout Mental Cases; “These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished”[25] represents men who are partly dead. “Three quarters dead” creates dramatic irony as readers know he died a week preceding the armistice. Hindsight gives insight into the pain of the soldiers, but the poetry explores the feelings encountered during the war. The novels use hindsight to force understanding of the perpetual individual sufferings onto the reader. Shell shock, more commonly known as PSTD, is characterized as hysteria, nightmares, depression, hallucinations, and speech impediments and in some cases paralysis. Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon met at Craiglockhart where they sought psychological respite following a shell shock diagnosis. The men use their mentorship as a form of psychological care as the friendship forms between them relieving Owen’s symptoms. However, Sassoon’s view of women may have been influenced by the suspected homosexual relationship which would have caused distressed through the foreboding the shameful consequences. From this leave of absence, Sassoon wrote ‘Glory of Women’ to express his opposition to the women who he believes only “love us when we’re heroes, home on leave”[26]. Sassoon’s opposition was towards the women who didn’t suffer or experience shame as the men did. Sassoon personifies hell as a way of embodying the biblical argument of hell being the devil’s temptation, "when hell’s last horror breaks them"[27] to liken the situation to an unforgiving choice. The subtle sibilance and isolating tone reinforce Sassoon's hatred of the individual experiences of breakdowns. The aggressive stream of consciousness sees the writer express his opinions through the structure. Fragmented sentences such as “you worship decorations; you believe”[28] disrupt the flow causing discomfort as the readers feel the anger and pain the writer feels. Regeneration explores variations of shell shock and the diverse suffering it imposed. Observations of mental degradation force the reader to empathise with, and explore, the endurance the soldiers had to sustain. Burns represents the extremity of shellshock on infantry soldiers. His exhaustion is explored through the metaphor: “the little Moot Hall that had once stood at the center of the town was now on the edge of the sea”[29]. The metaphorical erosion represents the pervasiveness of his past, causing suffering. “The little Moot Hall” [30] balancing before the sea reveals the extent of Burns’ illness as a metaphor for his verging on the edge of sanity; alternatively interpreted as Rivers intensifying his suffering to force recovery. Contrastingly Faulks sculpts an atmosphere of ignorance: “they did not want to be reminded of normality”[31] which expresses society’s coping mechanism, ironically intensifying all variations of suffering for the individual isolated soldiers. “The dream is the liberation of the spirit from the pressure of external nature, a detachment of the soul from the fetters of matter”[32] Freud’s explanation of dreams represents psychoanalytic interpretations of the nightmares as being recurring images of repressed trauma, symbolizing the pressures of mental illness and how they detach from reality. Modern Marxism influenced Faulks to emphasize that officers suffer less traumatizing experiences of mental degeneration, revealing the vulnerability of infantry. Historically, it is known that infantry soldiers experienced the extreme forms of shell shock such as paralysis. Barker states “they’re about trauma… whether working class or aristocrats”[33] symbolizing her belief that the war caused widespread trauma. All three texts reveal suffering and mental degradation as interchangeable for the individual.

De-masculinisation within the texts initially creates individual suffering which gradually develops into mass suffering, subverting individual form. War caused the feminization of soldiers creating and forcing maternal roles upon them. Regeneration’s Prior portrays Rivers as a “male mother” [34] due to his feminised psychotherapy treatments being passive rather than invasive techniques. River’s being a “male mother” [35] de-masculinises him causing individual suffering. Rivers microcosmic observations de-masculinise emotional men; “Men who broke down, or cried, or admitted to feeling fear, were sissies, weaklings, failures” [36]. The disjointed structure forces the reader to spit Rivers’ view. The italicized “Not men” [37] emphasizes Rivers’ conflict with the stigmatization of shell-shock. Similarities between Rivers and Sassoon develop a therapeutic relationship that is based on mutual respect. Rivers’ motivation to help Sassoon prevents external disarray which has potential for suffering. Similarly Faulks’ de-masculinisation of Stephen develops feminised emotional relationships, which when destroyed inevitably causes individual suffering. Emotional attachments contextualize Stephen as a feminized figure and subvert his isolation through revealing intimacy through mutual experience; “I saw the great void in your soul, and you saw mine.”[38] Stephen “quashes”[39] all mothering sympathy to prevent Hunt suffering and ironically feminizes himself. He struggles with losing his masculinity leading to him threatening Hunt’s life, ironically also foreshadowing his near death experience. Repression of War experience reduces the insufficiently trained infantry to “silly beggars”[40] mocking that they “blunder in”[41]and thus exposing de-masculinisation. The feminised soldier is caused suffering due to forces out of his control. Hindsight restricts our understanding of these feminised soldiers as war was seen as a masculine experience; contrasting with modern war experiences of female soldiers. Barker believes men have a “lack of autonomy”[42] within war literature; causing de-masculinisation as they cannot govern themselves. Freud’s Oedipus complex, where children sexually desire parental figures, influenced both Faulks and Barker’s writings as wartime relationships were tainted with this concept due to repression of unconscious memories. For example Owen and Sassoon’s conversations in Regeneration are tainted with a latent homosexual reading. Losing substitute mothers caused more suffering to men as they once again lose their sense of normality. Birdsong reveals de-masculinisation to be the cause of individual suffering whereas both Regeneration and the poetry expose widespread suffering within barracks.

Spirituality’s prevalence in the texts symbolizes the mass coping mechanisms soldiers used to overcome their suffering. Many soldiers use religion to overcome the losses incurred by the war, but also as justification as suffering is “God’s will”[43]. However, variations of spirituality also feature the paranormal. Faulks uses runes to symbolise Weir’s need for predictability; creating black humour as war is an unpredictable situation. Also black humor is created through hindsight emphasizing the “staff cock up”[44] during the Battle of the Somme, extending the mass suffering imposed. The un-justifiable methods reassure the soldier’s safety as they cannot disprove reliability. Officer Weir is delicate as he needs certainty; “’You fixed it,’ said Weir in a voice that hoped for denial”[45]. The disjointed passage, prevalent with questions, creates tension through constant interruptions. Faulks allows for a moment of exaltation for the reader as “the man upstairs is on”[46] his side. The runes provide release for both Weir and Stephen as they can control their suffering. The unfathomable human suffering is justified through the psychoanalytical interpretations of coping mechanisms, reinforcing the soldiers’ need for comfort. The preternatural is presented as both justification of the suffering but also as shell shock symptoms through Owen’s poetry. The poems use comparatively short structures reflecting the unpredictability of their lives. Owen describes fictional post-traumatic stress disorder cases as “Purgatorial shadows"[47]. The adjective “purgatorial”[48] informs the reader of his indecisiveness whether their actions are justifiable. Soldiers described as "Purgatorial shadows"[49] are de-humanised causing suffering by making them empty “shells” who lack identity. Alternatively, functionalists view the suffering as soldiers’ isolating factor from society. These “shadows”[50] were society’s victims of ignorance through denial of shell shock as they were plagued by unforgiving acts preventing normality; society believed this was “God’s will”[51]. Class divisions exist within spirituality; upper class officers believing in the preternatural and infantry soldiers using God as justification. Birdsong’s Stephen is an exception; Marxist readings believe “his varied history allows him to have a freedom from the hierarchical class distinctions”[52], releasing him from the typical suffering of his class. Spiritualities division is prevalent in characters Weir and Jack Firebrace; Officer Weir relies on runes whereas “sewer rat”[53] Firebrace has full faith in God until his suffering intensifies through the loss of his son. Following the epistolary section preceding the Battle of the Somme is used to intensify the suffering the reader’s view, but also forces the anticipation of who shall perish. The death of Jack’s son tests his faith which is featured in his letter; "We would have kept him, but God knew best"[54] is Jack’s justification, but also reveals that home life continuing without them causes grief for all. Spirituality causes the realisation that suffering is inevitable and destroys all justification of soldier’s actions. The writers use spirituality to expose the mass suffering incurred by war and how soldiers attempt to overcome it.

The writers expose the emotive suffering of soldiers through the penetration of memories and relationships pre-dating the war. Writers present the pre-war as developing suffering in the masses and are often overlooked by readers. Faulks uses the epistolary section preceding the Somme to develop the persona behind the soldier humanizing them. Stephen’s love for Isabelle is scarcely mentioned during the war, yet within his letter he expresses her importance: “I write to you because you are the only one I've ever loved”[55] shows that love supersedes death in his mind. Stephen’s memories penetrate his suffering and disrupt the present revealing to the reader alternate forms of individual suffering. Birdsong uses a fractured time structure to juxtapose the development of our opinion of torment with historical anguish emphasizing documented mass suffering. By separating Stephen’s near death experience with Elizabeth’s trip to Germany, Faulks creates tension and subverts her individual suffering. Also Faulks mocks the futility of the war through Elizabeth’s sections in Germany, highlighting the frivolous modern reality of the history. Similarly, Jack’s relationships cause him suffering; “I worry about you so much” [56] reinstates the importance of his memories but also the suffering caused. Deceased son John plagues Jack’s final conversations; “he was a blessing too great for me”[57] is the final reference to “God’s will”[58]. The reader is revealed Jack’s perceived worthlessness in comparison to John how was “too great”[59] for him. Critic Ferrebe comments “Jack’s family are… fit to inspire little beyond a Dickensian pathos”[60] revealing Jacks “extreme suffering” due to tainted family memories of “a raddled older woman and a sickly child.”[61] William Hague believes the novel Birdsong explores “extreme suffering”[62]; he alludes to Jack Firebrace’s death scenes stating “he was physically and emotionally crushed”[63] in a “physical and emotional prison”[64]. Both critics make valid points however, Jack’s family aren’t presented as weighing him down, rather an honest release for his emotions. Contrastingly, sonnet The Soldier V reveals the importance of memories abstractly: “If I should die think only this of me/ There’s a corner of a foreign field that is forever England”[65] connotes both the absence of fear and the acceptance of death. The soft fricative alliteration coupled with the sonnet structure reinforces his affection for his home and the idealistic imagery of England. The foreboding of death reflects the typical line from soldier’s letters of “if I should die” [66]. Mass suffering for the soldier’s family is created through his welcoming of death. Regeneration’s Rivers has never seen battle as his age forbids him, yet, while Owen’s stutter is relieved, he adopts a stutter from his patients. This reveals Barker’s intention of causing the reader to consider that war affects not only those involved but those also feeling guilt at their inability to help. It is thought that exposure to this common affliction caused a complex in which he adopted symptoms, suggesting that war penetrates the lives of all even if not experienced. As soldiers penetrate Rivers’ own existence he suffers through the transference of symptoms. Sassoon creates the sense of casual innocence through the ignorance of newly trained soldiers by mocking their optimism. Sassoon forces the reader to shudder as “I’d toddle safely home”[67] uses hindsight to signify the possibility of harm. Usually embedding experiences within poems suppresses the mass experience and enforces the individual experience, yet Sassoon emphasizes the mass naivety of infantry soldiers and mocks their suffering. The writers use penetrating memories and pre-existing relationships as the mediums for mental defects developed by war to manipulate the pain of the individual into widespread suffering.

Mass suffering is overshadowed by the individual’s sufferings. Writers believe and portray that although suffering was widespread, those affected most were individual soldiers. These soldiers suffered through physical and mental injuries, memories of normality and family and those whose faith was tested. Soldiers also suffered through being de-masculinised to help others cope but also by the way in which they were treated for shell shock. The writers conclude that the suffering of the individual outweighs that of the masses. Families of soldiers alike were sent through “a wilderness beyond fear”[68] in which they couldn’t escape until the armistice. Even then those who lost husbands, brothers, uncles, sons and friends never let the “extreme sufferings”[69] go.

Word Count with Quotes: 3413 (463)

Word count without Quotes: 2950

AO1/ 2 = 11/15

AO3/ 4 = 18/25



1. Faulks, Sebastian - Birdsong (Vintage Classics) : Vintage Classics, January 2011, 528 pages

2. Barker, Pat – Regeneration : Penguin, May 2008, 256 pages

3. Jon Silkin, ed., The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry, Penguin, 1979

4. James, David – Birdsong Student Guide AS/A2, Phillip Allan, January 2009, 96 pages

5. Ellam, Julie – Birdsong York Advances notes, Longman, July 2009, 136 pages

6. Westman, Karin – Pat Barkers Regeneration : A Readers guide, Continuum, January 2008, 136 Pages

7. Freud, Sigmund – Interpretation of Dreams, Basic Books, February 2010, 688 Pages


9. The Disillusionment of the war Freud, Sigmund

10. , Woodrow, Wilson July 2012


12. Wilfred Owen – Jon Stallworthy – Pimlico – November 2013 -384 Pages

13. The Big Read – Birdsong Trailer – BBC – Saturday, 25th October 2003 – BBC two

Ashling – I’ve made lots of little changes for you so make sure you check this draft carefully to transfer the changes to your draft.

This essay keeps improving but look through my comments to address the clunky sentences

AO1/ 2/ = 11

AO3/ 4 = 19


[1] Woodrow Wilson -
[2] Wilfred Owen - Disabled
[3] Wilfred Owen - Disabled
[4] Regeneration – Pat Barker - Page 160
[5] Regeneration – Pat Barker - Page 160
[6] Page 160 – Regeneration – Pat Barker
7 Page 1 - [7]Regeneration – Pat Barker
[8] William Hauge – ‘The Big Read’ Trailer
[9] Page 405 – Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
[11] 403 – Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
[12] 220 – Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
[13] Page 403 – Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
[14] Page 403 – Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
[15] The Disillusionment of the War - Sigmund Freud
[16] Does It Matter? – Siegfried Sassoon – The penguin book of First World War Poetry
[17] Does It Matter? – Siegfried Sassoon – The penguin book of First World War Poetry
[18] Page 1 – Regeneration – Pat Barker
[19]Repression of War Experience – Siegfried Sassoon
[20] Mental Cases – Wilfred Owen - The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry
[21] Mental Cases – Wilfred Owen - The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry
[23] Page 156- Wilfred Owen – Jon Stallworthy
[24] Page 156- Wilfred Owen – Jon Stallworthy
[25] Mental Cases – Wilfred Owen - The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry
[26] Glory of Women – Siegfried Sassoon
[27] Glory of Women – Siegfried Sassoon
[28] Glory of Women – Siegfried Sassoon
[29] Page 176 – Regeneration – Pat Barker
[30] Page 176 – Regeneration – Pat Barker
[31] Page 148 – Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
[32] Interpretation of Dreams – Sigmund Freud
[33] Pat Barkers Regeneration : A Readers guide – Karin Westman
[34] Page 107 – Regeneration – Pat Barker
[35] Page 107 – Regeneration – Pat Barker
[36] Page 48 – Regeneration – Pat Barker
[37] Page 48 – Regeneration – Pat Barker
[38] Page 341 – Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
[39] Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
[40] Repression of War Experience – Siegfried Sassoon- The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry
[41] Repression of War Experience – Siegfried Sassoon- The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry
[42] Pat Barkers Regeneration : A Readers guide – Karin Westman
[43] Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
[44] Page 220 - Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
[45] Page 293 – Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
[46] Page 293 – Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
[47]Mental Cases– Wilfred Owen- The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry
[48] Mental Cases– Wilfred Owen- The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry
[49] Mental Cases– Wilfred Owen- The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry
[50] Mental Cases– Wilfred Owen- The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry
[51] Birdsong Sebastian Faulks
[52] Birdsong (York Notes Advanced) by Julie Ellam
[53] Birdsong Sebastian Faulks
[54] Page 223 – Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
[55] Page 222 – Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
[56] Page 222 – Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
[57] Page 452 – Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
[58] 223 - Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
[59] 223 - Birdsong Sebastian Faulks
[60] Philip Allan Birdsong – Student As/A2 guide
[61] Philip Allan Birdsong – Student As/A2 guide
[62] William Hauge – The Big Read Birdsong Trailer
[63] William Hauge – The Big Read Birdsong Trailer
[64] William Hauge – The Big Read Birdsong Trailer
[65] The Soldier V– Rupert Brooke- The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry
[66] The Soldier V– Rupert Brooke- The Penguin Book of First World War Poetry
[67] Base Details – Siegfried Sassoon
[68] Page 421 – Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
[69] William Hauge – The Big Read Trailer

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