Generals Die in Bed
Generals Die in Bed by Charles Yale Harrison: an Overview
Harrisons novel “Generals Die in Bed” is narrated by an anonymous soldier stationed in the infamous trenches of World War 1. The soldier tells of the slaughterhouse of war with horrific and uncompromising description. Throughout the text there are a few instances of heroism and gory such as the protagonists acts of bravery in a night time raid and heroic effort of the men to endure and maintain their humanities in the intolerable circumstances they were placed in. However, the resonating theme throughout the novel is that war is a place of horror and death not glory, this is first depicted the contrast between the feeling of the men in the first chapter of the book which quickly dissipates into one of “insane fear” after the first bombardment and then by the sentiment of the men that it the lice and the officers who are the real enemy not their German opponents.
The most obvious instance in the text of heroism is perhaps when the soldier conducts a night time raid in enemy lines. Whilst conducting the raid the narrator confronts a German and stabs the German in the ribs, with the bayonet on the end of his rifle. The narrator attempts to withdraw his blade but finds it is stuck, he then runs down the enemy trench of not being able to stand the sight of the if the wound that he created. Realizing that he is defenseless he sums up enough courage to return and retrieve his rifle. After the event the protagonist proudly declares that he has “been tested and found wanting.” This statement clearly demonstrates the value that the narrator places in heroism and glory and shows that there is a small place for glory in war.
The bravery of the men in their heroic struggle to endure, maintain their humanity and appreciate the small pleasures in life is both admirable and heroic. In the horrible conditions they were placed in it was not uncommon for men to go insane and give up. Under such conditions Renaud’s, a young French recruit who experiences stomach pains, fight to keep marching and the soldiers refusal to give up when trying to attain the crest in the last battle that he fight are remarkable feats of heroism. Heroism is also displayed by the men in their struggle to maintain their basic humanity by fulfilling futile tasks like killing the lice even though they know that they will return to maintain some from of hygiene, their ability appreciating the pleasant smell of beans blossoming and in general the pleasure they find in the small comforts of life like clean sheets and a good wine. However these glimpses of heroism are few and most of the novel is dominated by the brutality, death and discomfort that is caused by war.
The lack of glory and heroism that dominates “Generals Die in Bed” is highlighted by the contrast of the men’s attitude in the first chapter of the novel to that after they experience their first bombardment. The novel opens describing the barracks of the new recruits who sing “with mock pathos I don’t want to die.” The novel then abruptly skips to the men’s first experience of the trenches in which the protagonist stand before his lewis gun and imagines an action which, he states, makes him “feel elated.” This attitude of war being a place of glory and heroism full of joviality is quickly dispelled after the men experience a bombardment which causes them to “borrow into the ground like frightened rats,” liquefies their bowls and causes them to experience an “insane fear that keeps [them] cowering.” The notion of glory in war is further dispelled by the horrible conditions that the men of World War 1 were forced to endure.
The myth of war being glorious is further dispelled by the descriptions of the horrible squalor that the men had to endure and the unpatriotic stance that the men take on the war eradicates any patriotic notion that dying for ones country is heroic and glorious. The men live in vermin infested trenches and cannot cleans themselves of the mud that surrounds them. They “never refer to the Germans as [their] enemy” and the men don’t know “what the hell [they] are fighting for anyhow.” Rather the “traditional enemy” becomes the army police who are sent to round up the men after they pillage the city of Amiens . Further, the officers are universally hated by the men and Fry, a friend of the narrators, even goes so far as to shoot an officer in the back. All these sentiments of the men are echoed by a statement of the protagonist in which he declares that “we have learnt who our real enemies are. The lice, some of officers and death.” Glory and honour are ‘fanciful notions’ as far as the men fighting the war are concerned.
Harrisons anti-war novel “Generals Di in Bed” is a graphic recount by an anonymous soldier of the bloodbath that was the trenches of World War 1. The novel leaves room for the reader to appreciate the heroism that some of the men possessed by decribing the endurance of he men and their struggle to maintain humanity. However the major theme throughout the text is that war is a place devoid of glory and heroism. The novel causes the reader to ask, why has war persisted in human affairs from the beginning of recorded history?
Depiction of Internal Struggle in the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and Generals Die in Bed
Throughout history war has caused casualties numbering in the hundreds of millions, and as much as people would enjoy to look at these past barbaric catastrophes as an act of Armageddon, that is almost simply never the case. War itself has never been, and will never be, black and white. While most literary, or even cinematic depictions of warfare seem to emphasise the idea that military conflict is consistently “good vs. evil”, and that the mere idea of the bad and good even remotely sharing characteristics, conflicts, or even morals, would be considered taboo. It is evident that when comparing their literary work The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer and Generals Die In Bed by Charles Yale Harrison, that the argument of the baleful and the ethical unable to share these characteristics is simply an apocryphal. In both books, it follows the story of men who most, undoubtedly, would view as polar opposites. Some would even go as far to suggest that comparing both these men would be distasteful, ill-minded, or even obscene, but regardless of who these individuals are or what they have done, both Adolf Hitler and the Narrator in Generals Die In Bed ultimately shared one similar distinctive trait, inner turmoil. They demonstrated this through their constant disparity, perpetual fear, and continual distrust of others around them.
To begin, both Adolf Hitler in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and the narrator in Generals Die In Bed demonstrated a significant amount of inner turmoil with their continual hopelessness while placed in military conflict. Near the beginning of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich there was a part in which Adolf had expressed his feelings on the German loss toward the allied forces during World War I, ”I could stand it no longer,’ Hitler says in recounting the scene. ‘Everything went black again before my eyes; I tottered and groped my way back to the ward, threw myself on my bunk, and dug my burning head into my blanket and pillow . . . So it had all been in vain. In vain all the sacrifices and privations . . . in vain the hours in which, with mortal fear clutching at our hearts, we nevertheless did our duty; in vain the death of two millions who died . . . Had they died for this? . . . Did all this happen only so that a gang of wretched criminals could lay hands on the Fatherland?”. This demonstrates the high amount of inner turmoil Hitler had during the loss of the war. After the amount of years he had put into the Bavarian Army and the sacrifice he had to both witness and endure, it is undeniable that what he had gone through was not only physically demanding, but also emotionally demanding. Once he had discovered that all the time, energy, and indurment that he underwent was irrelevant towards the inevitable loss to both the German and Central Powers, the experience of it all had evidently taken a toll on his mental stability. Any individual under such stress and pressure would most definitely succumb to perpetuating feelings of misery and despair.
In continuation, near the end of the book, Adolf was in a situation in which he felt betrayed by all of those close around him “Since the July 20 attempt on his life he had grown distrustful of everyone, even of his old party stalwarts. ‘I am lied to on all sides,’ he fumed to one of his women secretaries in March”. This statement indicates a sense of hopelessness through the loss of the people he once trusted. This would evidently cause internal conflict due to the fact that he had absolutely no one he could have trusted. This would have pushed him further into a feeling of both isolation and loneliness. It would also cause a sense of paranoia within Hitler which is undeniably a trait of inner turmoil. In relation to this point, in the book Generals Die In Bed the narrator also displayed similar characteristics. There was a scene in which the narrator was having a conversation with one of the other soldiers he was friends with, while they were having the discussion at dinner his friend asked for his thoughts on the current state of the battle they were fighting, the narrator said “This is war; there is so much misery, heartaches, agony, and nothing can be done about it. Better to sit here and drink the sour, hard wine and try to forget.” This statement demonstrates the disparity in the situation he was facing at that point in time. It shows that the narrator in the book had evidently dealt with not only a war, but internal conflict. When he stated he’d rather drink to forget than face reality, it shows that he is mentally unprepared to face the the actualities of war which would ultimately cause inner turmoil.
In addition, both Adolf Hitler in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and the narrator in Generals Die In Bed demonstrated a significant amount of inner turmoil with their perpetual sense of fear while in the presence of war. Near the start of Generals Die In Bed there is a scene in which the narrator and his friend Fry were having a conversation about the enemy they were fighting, when Fry asked the narrator about his views on the Germans he stated “They take everything from us: our lives, our blood, our hearts…our job is to give, and theirs is to take”. That comment by the narrator demonstrates the sense of fear he had in association with the enemy. It depicts an idea that Germans would have taken absolutely everything away from him and his fellow soldiers. This would ultimately cause anxiety within the narrator whenever he would be engaging in combat with them. There would be a fear that if he had lost in the battle that everything he knew and once had would be robbed by the Germans, including his life. Because of this, it would have evidently caused him great internal conflict. Additionally, while the narrator was in the trenches there was a constant threat of both death and disease. The constant state of anxiety that he was in most definitely had taken a toll on how he lived his day to day life in a his situation of conflict and hostility. While he was in the trenches he stated “I can find nothing to console me, nothing to appease my terror”. This confession demonstrates the absolute terror and isolation he felt while he was at war. It shows that he was in such a constant state of panic and distress that he was unable to find any way to help himself cope with his situation and surroundings, all the narrator could ultimately do was drown in the endless cycle of fear he was living with.
In relation, in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Adolf Hitler also displayed the same characteristics as the narrator did. Near the end of the book there is a scene in which it depicted the Russians marching into Berlin to take control of Germany, while Hitler tried realized that it was his end “Physical wreck though Hitler now was, with a disastrous end staring him in the face as the Russians approached Berlin and the Western Allies overran the Reich, he and a few of his most fanatical followers, Goebbels above all, clung stubbornly to their hopes of being saved at the last minute by a miracle.” This most evidently exhibits the despair and apprehension toward their inevitable defeat. It demonstrates the total and complete deterioration of a man who once was one of the most powerful individuals in Europe, to a man who ultimately failed to do the one thing he had always planned on doing, the forcible acquisition of Lebensraum. Once he had realized that everything he had fought for was crashing down right in front of him, and all the sacrifices he had made were all for nothing, it is undoubtedly undeniable that because of this he was unable to cope with feeling of terminal defeat and ultimately fell into an abyss of total and utter angst, and this doubtlessly exhibits inner turmoil through both men by their constant state of endless fear.
Furthermore, both Adolf Hitler in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and the narrator in Generals Die In Bed demonstrated a significant amount of inner turmoil with their continual distrust of others around them. In the book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Hitler displayed unquestionable doubt towards individuals and even those closely associated with him, “I can rely on no one. They all betray me. The whole business makes me sick . . . If anything happens to me, Germany will be left without a leader. 1 have no successor, Hess is mad, Goering has lost the sympathy of the people, and Himmler would be rejected by the Party – besides, he [Himmler] is so completely inartistic . . . Rack your brains and tell me who my successor is to be…”. This statement made by him showcased the complete suspicion and distrust that he held against even the most attentive of his followers. This demonstrates a turning point in which Adolf not only mistrusted his enemies, but also the ones close to him. Because of this, it is evident that he had most likely dealt with some form of paranoia to the point that he was willing to let it overcome his relations with others, which ultimately caused Hitler to suffer from inner turmoil. In relation to this, the narrator in Generals Die In Bed also displayed similar traits when he had spoken about the other soldiers he was working with, “Out on rest they behaved like human beings; here they are merely soldiers. We know what soldiering means. It means saving your own skin . . . that and nothing else . . . In a moment they are at each other’s throats like hungry, snarling animals . . . They strike at each other with their fists, they kick with their heavy boots. We intervene, tear them apart, and push them into separate corners of the dugout. Blood streams from Cleary’s cheek. Broadbent is alive with hate, white with passion.” This demonstrated how the narrator alienated the rest of the people he was surrounded by. He placed distrust in them even though they were supposedly people that were close to him, just as Hitler did. Throughout the entirety of the time he was in trenches it became evident that he slowly began to not only mistrust the Germans, but also his fellow Canadians he was fighting alongside. By the end of the book the narrator had completely shifted his mentality and spoke of the Germans the same way he spoke about the spoilers fighting alongside him, “I am filled with frenzied hatred for these men. They want to kill me but i will stay here and shoot at them until I am either shot or stabbed down. I grit my teeth. We are snarling savage beasts”. This statement demonstrates the distrust he placed in everyone around him. War itself had damaged the way he viewed the individuals that surrounded him and his paranoia spread from just the Germans, to absolutely everyone he came in contact with, even his best friend Fry. This undoubtedly exhibits inner turmoil through both men by their continual distrust towards people around them.
In conclusion, both Adolf Hitler in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich and the narrator in Generals Die In Bed are individuals that the majority would view as opposites, but after analyzing both texts it became apparent that internal struggle is something that anyone can fall victim too, regardless of who they are or what they have done. Both Adolf Hitler and the narrator shared inner turmoil because of war they took part in through their constant disparity, perpetual fear, and continual distrust of others around them.
Senselessness and Brutality of War in Generals Die in Bed
In Harrison’s Generals Die in Bed, violence plays a major role in demonstrating the reality of bloody battles and life in the trenches. The inclusion of such graphic imagery serves to deglamorize and unromanticise the idea of war. It is through the book’s violence and imagery that the theme of the senselessness and brutality of war is revealed, and that the true cost of war reaches much further than just the body count.
Harrison’s depiction of what it’s like to live in the trenches is exceptionally horrid – constantly surrounded by vermin, lice, disease, and rotting corpses. This serves to contradict any misconceptions the reader may have about the true nature of war. Through the first portion of the novel, the enemy has revealed itself in an assortment of forms and remains mostly invisible. The moment wherein the sniper is somewhere in the nearby woods looking through his telescopic lens, he is not to be seen. The soldiers can only look to their imagination to believe what they would do to him, “we will bayonet him like a…trench rat”. Although it appears that one of the main enemies is the lice, “we are going insane with scratching”. This incessant need to scratch along with the continual pains of hunger paints a grim picture of trench life, only further amplifying Harrison’s notion of the senselessness and brutality of war.
Throughout the novel Harrison continually notes the harshness of war, specifically with his language choice. As the novel progresses it can be seen that the soldiers are losing their free will, and instead turning into mindless robots programmed to follow the orders given by generals. Throughout the text Harrison juxtaposes the soldiers to ordinary citizens to reinforce his point that the soldiers are not naturally savage, but have become so over time. In example, once the narrator and the men return from the rest the differences in their humanity become much more evident: “Out on rest we behaved like human beings; here we are merely soldiers”(CITE). The “merely soldiers” even eludes to the fact that these men are simply victims of the war itself. Harrison’s sentences are stark and to the point, which reflects the similar behaviour of the seemingly now robotic soldiers who follow orders mindlessly. The concise phrases such as “there is talk of an offensive” and “it is in constant turmoil” suggest that the soldiers have no input and must simply endure whatever form of destruction is awaiting them. They follow orders, seemingly without thinking; “We are back in line”. The blunt tone captures their sense of helplessness as well as their fear: “we live in perpetual fear of raids”.
Although the message of this novel is that war is without meaning, vile, and dehumanizing, and only serves to manipulate young men, we are occasionally met with brief moments of relief. Such as when the soldiers come to rest in a French village where they come across a stream to swim in. “During the long winter months in the line, bodies did not exist for us. We were men in uniform; clumsy, bundled, heavy uniforms. It is amazing now to see that we have slim, hard, graceful bodies. Our faces are tanned and weather-beaten and that aged look which the trench gives us still lingers a bit, but our bodies are the bodies of boys” (Harrison, p.127). Moments such as these humanize the soldiers and create a sense of relief and sereneness, which only amplifies the brutality of the violence that ensues throughout the rest of the novel. In addition, Harrison tends to personify the war itself as its own living entity, stating that it “shrieks and catcalls” or “howls like an insane woman”, creating the image of a monster which proceeds to override any sense of humanity the soldiers may have and reduces them to primitive actions as the fight for survival consumes them. They have countless orders drilled into them and respond robotically. “A thousand thundering orders! A thousand trivial rules, each with a penalty for an infraction, has made will-less robots of us all.”. Furthermore, they demonstrate a desensitization to death. This is made most evident when Karl begins to plead for his life due to the fact that he has three children. As Harrison expresses, “who can care for us, we who are set loose at each other and tear at each other’s entrails with silent gleaming bayonets?”
Another note which showcases the level of senseless desensitization is how the Generals constantly refer to the pickings of the war as “souvenirs”. This is not only immensely offensive but belittles the memory of the soldiers who did not survive. It only serves to mock those who have given their lives for their country. The Generals simply give out the orders and do not become involved in the savagery, therefore are detached from the experiences of the common soldier. During one of the most bloody charges, the colonel offers the narrator a drink of rum upon his return from killing Karl. However, although the narrator becomes decorated for his bravery he still reflects upon the senseless encounter, dozens of men have died and all the colonel can offer is a drink of rum.
Through his concise and unembellished narrative style, the various juxtapositions and dreary imagery, Harrison is able to expose the numerous costs of war; perhaps the ultimate cost of war is the humanity of the soldiers themselves. They repeatedly must endure one tribulation after another and are met with little to no reward for it. All that they have to show for it is the death and destruction around them. Harrison conveys time and time again through his stark and violent scenes the senseless brutality of war.
Life of Main Hero in Generals Die in Bed
At the turn of the century when discussing the subject of war there was only one Latin ideal which could come to mind: ” Dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori”; it is sweet and proper to die for one’s country. Through the graphic depictions of Charles Harrison’s Generals Die in Bed and Ernest Hemmingway’s Farewell to Arms, world society is introduced to the horrors of modern day warfare in a way that has yet to be forgotten. Both Fredric Henry and the characters of Generals Die in Bed, despite the many hardships they face, are still able to function as human beings by displaying characteristics of friendship within the ranks, feelings of love, and sorrow which comes with the death of a loved one back home, or the death of a fellow soldier. Despite all this the human sprit lives on.
From the opening chapter in Montreal, to the graphic portrayal of battle, the characters of Generals Die in Bed, form friendships on the basis that only the men in the trenches next to them will ever be able to relate to the agony of war. Comradeship and esprit de corp, according to the narrator, are merely words that are used by reporters. For the “grunts” in the trenches life was much simpler; “… a belly full to eat, enough smokes to last the night, and the trust of the guy next to you”, Harrison explains. Their friendship is tested when a fight breaks out between Cleary and Broadbent. When bread is being distributed by Cleary, Broadbent suspects that his piece is smaller than the rest and immediately goes after Cleary. The other men separate the two “snarling animals” as a bombardment begins. Harrison shows us that like a family, they fight over what may seem like the petty things in life but because the other men separate Cleary and Broadbent, they care enough to keep the two from killing each other. It’s only later, when the men are on leave that they can act like humans. Fry discovers a nearby stream and the men decide to go swimming. “We have nearly lost that aged, harassed look which we wear in the front lines. We are youngsters again.” Harrison suggests that it is only when the soldiers are stripped of their uniform, for the first time in months, that they begin to act civilized again; shouting and splashing in the water like children. It’s the shared dream of leave, a bellyful to eat, and the prospect of home that keep these men together.
In Hemmingway’s Farewell to Arms, Lt. Fredric Henry, the main character of the story, forms a major friendship with the priest. For Fredric, the idea of friendship is much more complicated than the average foot soldier. Hemmingway shows us the strength of the friendship that exists when the Priest encourages him to go to Arbuzzi. Despite upsetting the priest by not going the two are still good friends, because according to Fredric, “the priest had always known what I did not know and what, when I learned it, he was always able to forgive.”(Chapter 3, pg 14). When Henry is wounded the priest brings him mosquito netting, vermouth, and English papers in spite of not going to Arbuzzi. This shows us that the priest’s character is all forgiving and the least likely to hold grudges. Fred senses that something is troubling the priest and asks him what is on his mind. To Fred’s surprise, the priest responds that it is the war; “still even wounded you do not see it. I can tell. I do not see it myself but I feel it a little” (Chapter 11, pg.70). He tells Fred that he can’t understand it because he is a foreigner, a patriot. According to the priest, the ones who do not want war cannot stop it because their leaders sell them out. Fred can relate to this being, “American in the Italian Army.” (Chapter 5, pg. 22) and understands where the priest is coming from. Like the priest, Fred joins this war as a patriot. He is a foreigner fighting another man’s war. It is through the friendship with the priest that both characters can vent their feelings about the war and not let it destroy them.
While on leave in London the narrator runs into a girl named Gladys. Harrison can only describe her as, “a pretty girl and an excellent companion for a soldier on leave”, (chapter 8, pg104). This suggests that the relationship for Harrison is merely of sexual nature but after spending time with her at the theatre, in the pubs, and finally at her place, Harrison opens up to her about his true feelings of war by crying. This is due mainly to the fact that Harrison has had bottled up emotions that only come out when he is with an understanding person like Gladys, “I always feel sad when the boys cry in my bed. It makes me feel that it is my fault in some way.”(Chapter 8, pg108) As morning comes the narrator wakes to the smell of grilled bacon. The narrator is completely astonished by what lays in front of him, it is a full breakfast none the likes of which he has seen in years. Gladys is the first civilian to understand what he and many other men at the front have been through, “How well this women understands what a lonely soldier on leave requires.” After spending a week with Gladys Harrison describes his deep feelings about her saying that,
” In a dozen different ways she makes me happy: a pat on the back, a run of her hand through my hand. She is that delightful combination of wife, mother, and courtesan-and I, a common soldier on leave, have her!”(Chapter 8, pg111)
This is one of the rare times where the narrator has any strong feeling of happiness or love towards anyone. When Harrison’s leave is up, he is about to board the train but before they depart they embrace each other one more time and again tears from fall from both the narrators face and Gladys suggesting that an element of love exists here between the two. Harrison even depicts his love for her, saying that, “She is all the things I have longed for in the long months at the front”. This relationship with Gladys not only gives Harrison the opportunity to relieve the pain caused by the war but also provides him with a sense of hope for the future, knowing that when and if he ever comes back home, that he will be able to find someone like Gladys who can understand what he has experienced at the front and not let the hardships of war destroy him.
Henry falls for a British nurse named Catherine and is immediately attracted to her beauty. Fredric meets up with her the following day. After a short discussion about her nursing career Fred leans forward to kiss her and she slaps him. She apologizes and he, feeling that he has an advantage, tells her it is all right. “You see I’ve been leading a sort of a funny life. And I never even talk English. And you are so very beautiful.”(Chapter 5, pg. 26). Catherine kisses Fredric and then cries on his shoulder and asks if he will be good to her because “we’re going to have a strange life.” (Chapter 5, pg. 27) When Fredric goes to bed, Rinaldi is awake, he is questioned about the encounter and the two begin to joke about the matter. Hemmingway shows us that Fredric’s originally only intended to sleep with her and nothing else. After he finally has sex with her, Catherine asks if he loves her, Fredric lies and tells her yes. Catherine however, is not so naive to believe his response, and after they have sex, she tells him this. It is only when Fred spends too much time foolishly drinking that he realizes how much he wants to see her, “I went out the door and suddenly I felt lonely and empty. I had treated seeing Catherine very lightly. I had gotten somewhat drunk and had nearly forgotten to come but when I could not see her there I was feeling lonely and hollow.”(Chapter 7, pg. 41). Feelings of love begin to surface. When Fredric is wounded, he does not see her for a couple of days and can’t stand being apart from her, “Catherine Barkley took three days off night duty and then she came back on again. It was as though we met again after each of us had been away on a long journey” (Chapter 17, pg. 111) Fredric begins to comment on Catherine’s hair it reminds him of being enclosed inside a tent or behind a waterfall. “She had wonderfully beautiful hair and I would lie sometimes and watch her twisting it up in the light that came in the open door and it shone even in the night as water shines sometimes just before it is really daylight.” (Chapter 18, pg. 114) This lovely description stands as a symbol of the couple’s isolation from the world, their relationship is seen as the only escape from the horrors of wars. An element of love begins to exist when simple things like watching her brush her hair, or kissing her neck, make him feel faint. Any worries about their relationship are put aside by her presence. Only a human is capable of expressing such emotions.
The narrator watches helplessly as his only living friend Broadbent, lies next to him in a pool of blood, bleeding to death. When the narrator finds Broadbent with his partly amputated leg he is stricken with fear and cannot answer his friend when he asks if his leg has fallen off. Harrison provides an indirect comparison of the pain felt by seeing his friend in a helpless state to, “the pool of blood that grew as though it where fed by a subterranean spring.”(Chapter 12, pg 171) This suggest that the sorrow felt by the death of Broadbent, as well as the others who has died, is unending and flows continuously within. Harrison’s depiction of his friend’s death shows the cruelty and sorrow brought by the death of even the most hardened soldier. His officers trained him as a heartless killing machine but like all men who live and die no drill moments, no intensive conditioning can stop them from feeling the physical and mental pain brought on by the death of fellow foot soldiers. He dies as a human or as Harrison puts it bluntly, “Like hundreds of other men I have seen die, Broadbent dies like a little boy too-weeping, calling for his mother.” (Chapter 12, pg 172) Despite this the narrator is not destroyed by what he sees in front of him. Shortly after being picked up by the stretcher-bearers and being placed on a train bound for the hospital, a female of the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps boards the train. Regardless of his friends death and the man next to him on the train, this does not stop him from joking around with her. Harrison suggests that the narrator is not destroyed by the war through the means of expressing his sorrow on the battlefield instead of carrying it with him onto his trip home.
Fredric Henry has seen many of his troops killed, as an ambulance driver, he has seen the grim realities of war but with his relationship with Catherine is the only escape from the shelled and bullet holed landscape of his life. When Fredric deserts the Italian Army to be with Catherine, months after his “farewell to arms”, Catherine becomes pregnant. Months pass and Catherine wakes Fredric complaining of pain that hit every half an hour. At the hospital, complications from the birth result in the baby dieing but Fredric is not interested in the baby but only in Catherine’s safety. Hemmingway provides the reader with the foreshadowing of events to come,
“I sat down on the chair in front of a table where there were nurses’ reports hung on clips at the side and looked out of the window. I could see nothing but the dark and the rain falling across the light from the windows. So that was it. The baby was dead.” (Chapter 41, pg. 327)
He thinks about a log full of ants that he burned in a campfire when he was younger and how the ants looked when they were dying. Catherine later has a hemorrhage and it is very dangerous. She knows she is going to die, but tells him she isn’t afraid. “It seems she had one hemorrhage after another. They couldn’t stop it. I went into the room and stayed with Catherine until she died. She was unconscious all the time, and it did not take her very long to die.” (Chapter 41, pg. 331) He has lost his only true love and his only shield from the war. After she dies the doctor offers to take Fredric to his hotel but refuses and also ask that he be alone with Catherine to say goodbye. Hemmingway’s use of diction shows the reader the true sorrow that is felt by his loss, “But after I got them to leave and shut the door and turned off the light it wasn’t any good. It was like saying good-by to a statue. After a while I went out and left the hospital and walked back to the hotel in the rain.”(Chapter 41, pg. 332) The tragedy of the novel rests in the fact that their love, even when genuine, can never be more than temporary in this world. In spite of this tragedy, Fredric is able to walk out of that hospital hurt, but not broken.
Through the many friendships with the people around them, the momentary or long-term moments of love, and sorrow, Charles Harrison and Fredric Henry fail to be destroyed by the war. The human sprit of Charles Harrison and Fredric Henry cannot be broken by displaying human characteristics of friendship, love, and sorrow, these two men still have the ability to function as human beings and not just as killing machines that their superiors force them to be. Erasmus, one of the many scholars during the renaissance; the revival of classical learning and art in 15th century Italy once said that: “war is delightful to those who have not experienced it.” Back home people foolishly believed that war was a glorious and honourable thing, not as pointless slaughter. In a society like ours that is rapidly placing more importance on technological advancements and less importance on the humanities, we must learn from the mistakes of the past so we may not need to repeat them.
Values in Generals Die in Bed Novel
The thoughts and actions of the narrator in a novel can offer the reader unique insight into the narrator’s personal values. In the novel Generals Die in Bed, by Charles Yale Harrison, the narrator reveals his personal values through both his actions and his commentary on the war around him. The narrator values education and knowledge, life and humanity, as well as charity and compassion. Although he sometimes does not act upon these values, he restates them many times and eventually finds they are a part of his personality and embraces them as such in the end.
The narrator of Generals Die In Bed establishes his value of education early in the novel. He reveals to the reader part of his education background and implies his interest in literature in a conversation with his fellow soldiers. They discuss the minenwerfer bombardment they experienced during their first night in the trenches. Cleary emphasizes his fear through hyperbole by saying he “thought [he] was dead a dozen times.” In response to this the narrator quotes Oscar Wilde: “He who lives more lives than one, more deaths than one most die.” His comrades do not know what he has alluded to and as he begins to explain and stress the “scandalous features” of Wilde’s story, he finds his words “sound hollow and flat”. The narrator also repeats an epigram that “once sounded so sparkling in [his] high-school days.” Both these phrases illustrate the dark, dreary life in the trench and stress the uselessness of his value of education in war through metaphor. His colleagues also do not pay attention to his explanation; Fry even “closes his eyes and turns his head away” afterwards (28-29). After this point the narrator does not mention his education or quote any literature. Instead as the war progresses he finds he prefers not to “seek for answers” and compares himself to a thoughtless beast through simile by noting he would rather “live like an unreasoning animal” (129).
In Generals Die In Bed the narrator reveals his value of human life. He first notes the Canadian soldiers never refer to the Germans as [their] enemy showing they do not want to kill Germans no more than the Germans want to kill Canadians, ironic since they are both trained to do so (44). This is contrasted during the raid when he must kill a German or be killed in the trench. He later reflects upon his actions and why he was terrified when he thought about the man he killed (129). He even refers to himself as a criminal and tells Gladys he once committed murder in reference to the event (169). While he contemplates his terror he also wonders why he stood frozen when he was told Cleary was dying (129). This metaphor as well as the simile used when he ponders why he felt as though [his] insides were being forced up through [his] throat as [he] watched him die display his disgust at the loss of life (130).
The narrator values compassion above all in Generals Die in Bed. He repeatedly expresses this value through his generous help of others throughout the novel. When the soldiers first reach the trenches, Fry has trouble keeping up with the group and the narrator and Brown “fish” him out of a water-filled hole (15). The narrator later crawls “with great effort” over to Fry while they are under attack because Fry is “half covered with earth and debris” and begins to dig him out despite his fear (25). Later on during the raid on the German lines he is the only raider to return with prisoners. He also asks his Colonel that the prisoners “be treated nicely”, which is ironic as he recently killed one prisoners brother (122). Next the narrator finds himself metaphorically “attached” to a new recruit after his leave (179). Before the Canadian attack on the German lines he feel[s] sorry” for the recruit and asks the recruit to “stay with [him]” for the duration of the attack (183).
The narrator does not always follow his values during the novel. During a retreat he leaves Fry wounded on the battlefield, even though Fry screams Dont leave me here alone (201). The narrator also takes part in avenging the Llandovery Castle; he helps kill unarmed Germans at Amiens (255). Despite this, in the end of the novel the narrator embraces his values once again. When he is wounded on the battlefield he does not “forsake” Broadbent, who is mortally wounded, and “reassure[s]” him (263).
The narrator of Generals Die in Bed imparts his values upon the reader throughout the novel. Despite brief respites from these values, he manages to hold true to his value of learning, life, and commiseration in the end.