How does Sherriff present Heroism in Journey’s End?
In R.C Sherriff’s Journey’s End, the theme of heroism is mainly presented through the characters of Raleigh and Stanhope in addition to their relationship with one another. Despite the fact that Stanhope is much a changed man now he has been exposed to over three years on the frontline, Raleigh still maintains his strong sense of worship towards him and admires Stanhope regardless of his signs of possible weakness and mental deterioration. Stanhope’s heroism is still presented as fake to a certain extent, as his real cowardice lies beneath his honourable disguise. It may be argued that the dominant theme of hero-worship is due to the fact that Sherriff wanted to stress the importance of hierarchy in the war, as this appears central to the theme of heroism in the play (especially as it’s evident that all those lower than Stanhope in the hierarchical system continue to view him as a great hero).
The presentation of hero-worship between Raleigh and Stanhope in the play suggests that it is permanent and limitless – therefore creating a rather magical, boundless view of heroism from when viewing Raleigh’s attitude towards Stanhope. Even before Raleigh meets him after years of separation, Osborne warns him that he shouldn’t ‘expect to find him – quite the same’. When Raleigh is finally reunited with Stanhope he still overlooks the rather apparent flaws in his nature which have been triggered by the constant strain of war. Stanhope’s aggression towards Raleigh is not enough to reduce his admiration for the man, as the audience learns that Raleigh still truly values Stanhope as a great man when Osborne reads out his letter home. Unlike Stanhope’s own pathetic perception of himself, Raleigh truly understands the hardship he has undergone and realises that he simply ‘works so frightfully hard’. Raleigh goes on to describe Stanhope as the ‘finest officer in the battalion’ which reinforces the idea of his admiration being infinite, as the superlative ‘finest’ stresses the superiority of Stanhope and emphasises his high view of the commander. The presentation of Stanhope being a hero figure is further demonstrated as Raleigh states that he is ‘awfully proud’ to think that Stanhope is his friend. The numerous compliments throughout Raleigh’s letter epitomise his sheer idolisation for Stanhope; to the point of which he cannot even mention a single negative aspect of his character. It’s could be viewed that this presentation of Raleigh as nothing more than a ‘boy’ is a representation of how naïve young soldiers were upon entering the war – hence his blind fixation on Stanhope. The romanticised view that Raleigh carries is soon to be destroyed by the events of the German Raid, meaning his faith in this ideal of heroism is reduced, nevertheless, this doesn’t mean that his hero-worshipping of Stanhope diminishes.
Nevertheless, this theory could be challenged when considering the opinions of Osborne, of whom maintains faith in heroism – perhaps not in the same sense as young Raleigh, but he still believes that ‘it goes on all through life’. This idea of hero-worship being present throughout life is a more romanticised view of matters, but similarly, R.C. Sherriff may have adopted this tone for Osborne in order to highlight his more hopeful attitude in comparison to Stanhope’s generally pessimistic view of life. This idea is supported by Osborne’s conversation with Raleigh, as he reveals that one ‘must always think’ of war ‘as romantic’ because ‘it helps’. It could be interpreted that Sherriff wanted to emphasise the similarity in characters of Raleigh and Osborne – despite the fact that they are furthest apart in terms of age. This reinstates the contrast in ideologies between that of Raleigh and Osborne, who maintain this idealized view of the war and carry the belief of heroism, and Stanhope who has lost all faith in justice and physically cannot allow himself to think romantically.
Stanhope’s own view of heroism is that it’s pointless and unrealistic as he says that it’s simply a concept of which ‘small boys at school’ dream about. This highlights the contrasting ideologies of Stanhope and Raleigh, and their overall differences in character. It could be that Sherriff incorporates this idea of heroism in order to stress the impacts that war has on young men – as initially, Stanhope entered the war as a young, hopeful boy having ‘just come out of school’ and, like Raleigh he wanted to be a hero. It’s possible that Sherriff himself was a disbeliever of heroism, hence the bitterness reflected in Stanhope’s character – as the war forces him to realise that there are no heroes, only survivors. The gradual deterioration of Raleigh’s faith in heroism is symbolic of the belief that there are no heroes in war, and this ties into Stanhope’s own perception of hero-worship being childish. It may be interpreted that Stanhope and Raleigh both entered the war as young hopeful men – practically boys (as did 250,000 under 18 year olds by 1918) , carrying this romanticised belief that fighting in the war will make them heroes. However, throughout the play the audience learns that this idea of heroism is insignificant – as does Raleigh, as he appears to lose faith in the promises of valour and honour. This potentially marks the transition of childhood into adulthood – as Raleigh’s youthful dreams of gallantry are crushed by the harsh reality of war, meaning he no longer carries his childish ideals of heroism, and becomes more like Stanhope in the sense that he no longer fantasises over a perfect, noble future following the war.
Nevertheless, despite Stanhope’s lack of belief in heroism, he is desperate to maintain his pristine, courageous image for the sake of Raleigh’s sister who is ‘waiting’ for him back at home. It could be viewed that Stanhope’s insistence on appearing heroic is a defence mechanism to the true horrors of war, which at least allows his dream of heroism to live on as the other officers still look up to him as a brave leader. His dependence on whisky is a way to mask his cowardice, as he is unable to face battle on the front line without numbing himself with alcohol. He himself admits that he can’t bear being ‘fully conscious all the time’. Stanhope’s inner conflict between his desire to present himself as a hero, and his overwhelming fear of the frontline highlights the mental strain that is produced as a result of the romanticised ideals of heroism. Consequently, R.C Sherriff hints that in reality these dreams cannot be fulfilled. This obsession with appearing heroic ties into the fact that before WW1, Ireland was denied the right to fight in the war therefore meaning the soldiers were unable to follow their ideals of honour by fighting for their country.
The Depiction of War in Journey’s End and Exposure
In both Journey’s End and “Exposure,” war is generally presented in a gloomy light as Owen and R.C. Sheriff, respectively, focus on the attitude of the soldiers throughout their experience on the frontline. Whilst Owen draws more attention to the strain created by the harsh winter conditions in the trenches, Sherriff concentrates on the inside events of the trenches and how the soldiers are subject to emotional stress as a consequence of the war. Nevertheless, both texts constantly refer to the slow pace of World War 1 and suggest that the soldiers spent the majority of their time simply waiting for the enemy’s next move. Furthermore, Owen and Sherriff imply that the soldiers almost lived in a false reality – as they avoid much mention of the enemy or any serious events in the war, and tend to have rather mundane conversations. Similarly, both writers hint at the psychological strain on the soldiers as a result of their continuous exposure not only to the weather conditions, but to the variety of horrors they face on the battlefield.
The idea of war as a tenuous state is reinforced throughout Owen’s “Exposure” as at the end of stanzas 1, 3, 4 and 7 the phrase ‘but nothing happens’ is repeated. The fact that the phrase opens with ‘but’ indicates that despite how prepared the soldiers may be, they still have to wait painfully until the opposition decide to make an attack. This implies that the men grow more distressed as time progresses because the waiting simply allows them to overthink the situation more – increasing their panic. The repetition of the statement and the ab ba rhyme scheme produces a cyclical effect, therefore allowing the reader to reflect on the tediousness of war and the monotonous routine of the soldiers. Likewise in Journey’s End Sherriff often uses stage directions of ‘there is silence’ to convey the eerie atmosphere which is produced as a result of the lack of action. When talking about the German attack Osbourne states that ‘it’s been expected for the last month’ which again shows the slow development of the war, as the soldiers have no choice but to entertain themselves whilst they anticipate the next raid. In fact, one of the potential names for Journey’s End was ‘Waiting’, so it’s evident that Sherriff viewed the war as a sort of inane waiting game causing great irritation, but mainly distress to the soldiers on the frontline.
Denial is another common theme in “Exposure” and Journey’s End as the authors suggest that the soldiers block out the nightmarish nature of war by almost refusing to accept that it’s real. For example, in “Exposure” Owen’s use of rhetorical questions creates a sense of disbelief and confusion as they question ‘what are we doing here?’ and ‘is it that we are dying?’ This shows how the soldiers have become so overwhelmed by the whole process of war, that they have practically forgotten their actual purpose; therefore triggering feelings of denial. The soldiers question their existence in a dazed tone, as if they are half-conscious which again demonstrates their loss of engagement in the war. In the fifth stanza, Owen’s alliteration in the words ‘dazed’, ‘deep’, ‘ditches’, ‘drowse’, ‘dozed’ and ‘dying’ produces a heavy, trance-like tone – creating an image of a limp, exhausted soldier plodding along. This adds to the idea of sub consciousness and produces a dream-like mood which verifies the soldiers’ retraction from the war. Owen also compares the sound of artillery gunfire to ‘a dull rumour of some other war’ – similarly this indicates how the soldiers block out the war to the extent that they pretend they’re almost not even involved at all; as if they’re spectators. The phrase ‘some other war’ reduces the overall significance of the concept of war – it’s evident that it’s become an everyday aspect of life for the men on the frontline as they refer to it in such a vague manner (like it doesn’t really concern them in the slightest). In Journey’s End Sherriff maintains this idea of hyperreality, as the soldiers discuss such trivial issues such as ‘getting dirt in your tea’ and ask each other about whether they prefer ‘black pigs or white pigs’. The discussion of these minor, unimportant subjects shows how the soldiers are desperate to avoid any talk of war, however in Sheriff’s interpretation it appears as if the men are purely doing this on purpose ‘to forget’ the harsh reality of battle. Unlike Exposure, where the soldiers appear to be more bewildered and dazed, Journey’s End highlights the soldiers’ inner turmoil which they attempt to disguise by focusing on unnecessary things.
Moreover, both Owen and Sherriff express the mental and physical strain on the soldiers from the constant pressure of war. For example the opening stanza in “Exposure” states, ‘wearied we keep awake’. The alliteration of ‘w’ produces a dull tone, as if the speaker is mumbling which suggests that they have been weakened by the continuous cycle of battle. The fact that the men force themselves to stay awake even though they are wearied shows how they push their bodies to the limit and refuse to give in, despite the great hardship of the war. In Journey’s End Sherriff makes it clear that Captain Stanhope has suffered under the strain of war as he turns to alcohol to calm his nerves. Osbourne reveals that Stanhope was once ‘on his back all day with trench fever – then on duty all night’ which demonstrates his determination to fulfil his duty even when he is hit by serious illness. Furthermore the repetition of the word ‘all’ in this sentence reinforces the idea of the soldiers being stuck in a constant cycle of battle which obviously contributes to the deterioration of their physical and mental health. Osbourne also says that Stanhope has ‘stuck it till his nerves have got battered to bits’ which further indicates how the war has such an immense impact on the men – as their nerves are destroyed by the horrors they have to endure.
Overall, it is evident that “Exposure” and Journey’s End capture war in a similar light, as both perspectives consider the importance of time on the frontline in addition to the soldiers’ feelings of denial in the trenches. Moreover each text shows how the men are worn down by stress, as the war appears to drain all their energy and hope. Although Exposure concentrates more on the idea of nature acting against the soldiers, both outlooks allow the reader to consider the internal effects on the men rather than solely the physical impacts that are normally associated with war.
Comparison of the mental suffering created by war
When exploring the presentation of mental suffering as a result of experiences in war, it is important to consider its literary representation as a lens to examine its true nature. When contemplating both Barker’s 1991 novel Regeneration and Douglas’ collection of Second World War poetry, alongside Sherriff’s Journey’s End, there does seem to be a stark illustration of the heinous mentality suffered by those affected by war; both the soldiers themselves and also those connected to them. Moreover, it is necessary to consider the validity of these writers’ portraits of mental calamity in their works if we as readers are concerned with authenticity, which ultimately raises the issue of whether or not there is in fact – as expressed by Graham – an element of pretense when writing war literature from the ‘outside’ of the nefarious experiences of warfare. If Graham’s contention is equitable then verisimilitude plays a vital role when dealing with mental suffering in war literature, thus posing the question of whether or not Barker and Douglas are successful in their respective works in encapsulating the true nature of what Freud called ‘war neuroses’.
One of the most prolific subjects explored by Barker throughout Regeneration is the mental struggle faced by those affected by war regarding gender roles – specifically, the issue of emasculation. Patterson interprets Regeneration to ultimately reveal the ‘need to alter masculine gender roles in order to embrace emotions and be healed’ and this can be considered viable as the damaging effect of emasculation is an extremely emotive topic that is weaved through the entirety of Barker’s novel; largely manifesting itself in almost every male character that the reader encounters. In Chapter Four, for instance, Barker presents the mental suffering inflicted by the prospect of emasculation upon the character of Burns, who after escaping Craiglockhart Hospital reveals a metaphorical representation of feelings of inadequacy as a male. Burns strips himself naked which in itself hints at a sense of vulnerability due to the ‘stripping’ of his protection in the form of clothing and then ‘cupped his genitals in his hands…they didn’t seem to belong with the rest of him’. This seems to indicate Burns’ internal torment, eliminating one of the facets of himself that proves his masculinity; he perhaps believes that he is no longer worthy of the male title due to his discharge from the Front. This is somewhat reminiscent of Sherriff’s use of language in Journey’s End when constructing the dialogue between Stanhope and Hibbert in Act Two, in which Stanhope perhaps directly threatens Hibbert’s masculinity through giving him an ultimatum; ‘you either stay here and try to be a man – or you get out of that door – to desert’. Sherriff’s adoption of pathos here arguably reveals desertion as the antithesis of ‘being a man’ and presents the harsh brutality of the consequences of what was then labelled as ‘cowardice’. Stanhope overtly threatens Hibbert through portentously stating that if Hibbert deserts his post then his revolver will ‘shoot you between the eyes’, thus revealing the cantankerous consequences of such an action. When contemplating Burns’ shame through the lens of the contextual factors relating to desertion as revealed by Sherriff in Journey’s End, the reader’s sympathy for Burns is greatly intensified as the brutal consequences of the human instinct to protect their own life is strenuously challenged.
When relating this back to the issue of verisimilitude, the behavior exhibited by Burns and Hibbert can be aligned to Freudian theories relating to war neuroses and more specifically the indirect influence of Barker’s husband’s role as a neurologist. Depending upon individual interpretations of Freud’s work it is possible to claim that both Barker and Sherriff incorporated elements relevant to the con- cept of war neuroses as a method of implementing both pathos and element of verisimilitude into their respective presentations of war. In 1921, which was notably before the writing of both Journey’s End and Regeneration, Freud concedes that in ‘war neuroses the human ego is defending itself from a danger which threatens it’ and this in many ways links to the mental struggle of both Burns and Hibbert. When considering Freud’s ideology relating to the id and the superego, which respectively hold the human facets of instinct in the id and the influence and understanding of cultural and social expectations within the superego. Freud goes on to claim that ‘what is feared is nevertheless an internal enemy’ which perhaps alludes to an inner mental conflict between the id and the superego; the instinct to survive and preserve one’s life when faced with the horrors of potential death, and the knowledge of the weight of social expectations of the archetypal soldier. This in turn may be – in Freud’s view – the cause of such mental suffering as exhibited by Burns and Hibbert, and the burdening brawl of their crippling terror at the prospect of being killed in war and also the haunting pressure to uphold their status as men and to live up to the ideology of traditional masculinity.
When considering the connotations of masculinity and the role of men within early twentieth century society, it is often concluded that the expectations placed upon men and fathers are to be the ‘protector’ and ‘provider’ for their families. This ideology, which is in some ways still relevant and present in our modern-day society, is further explored by Barker, through analyzing Anderson’s dream in Chapter Four. When contemplating Barker’s novel Loughran agrees with Rivers that ‘war neurosis stemmed from a conflict between self-preservation and duty, and that different symptoms represented different means of attempting to solve or repress this conflict.’ In his dream, Anderson is chased by his father-in-law and then tied up in ‘a pair of lady’s corsets’ which, like Burns’ experience, seems to indicate an internal feeling of inadequacy in not fulfilling the role as the ‘provider’ within society. However, unlike Burns’ mental suffering, Anderson’s personal torment seems to revolve around his role as a husband and father. He tells Rivers, ‘I have a wife and child to support’ and overtly professes that he feels that it is an ‘emasculating experience’ to be ‘locked up in a loony bin’. This seems to hint at what Loughran denotes as an internal ‘conflict’ between the pressure of upholding the duty as the provider and the fear brought about by humanity’s instinctual nature to conserve life and protect themselves.
Whereas the humiliating sense of inadequacy to reach the idealized role of the alpha-male protector suffered by the likes of Anderson in Regeneration, Douglas’ poetry contrastingly seems to exude a tone of abundantly ‘boyish’ masculinity, specifically in ‘Cairo Jag’. In this poem, Douglas immediately implements the metaphorical device of a euphemism in narrating ‘shall I get drunk or cut myself a piece of cake’, the motif of a cake presumably acting as a metaphorical allusion to casual sex. This, combined with the notion of getting drunk seems to hint at what both a contextually relevant reader and a present day reader would resonate to society’s view of the archetypal young man, who drinks and is consumed with the prospect of sex. This also addresses the issue of verisimilitude in Douglas’ poetry, as it does reveal a sense of imperfect humanity in the soldiers and thus possibly highlights the more negative aspects of their character, as opposed to simply being a one-dimensional ‘hero’. Douglas portrays ‘the Turk who says she’s a princess’ who possibly indicates the boyish masculinity of the speaker of ‘Cairo Jag’. The impersonal labeling of this woman as ‘the Turk’ as opposed to her name possibly implies that the speaker does not know her name, which alludes to the objectification of women that is sometimes considered a common characteristic of young men and thus authentically correlates with the social norms consolidated within Freud’s ‘superego’.
However, it is possible to form an alternative interpretation of masculinity in Douglas’ poetry and thus Hall’s contention that Douglas ‘wanted to go into the war with a completely unsentimental view on everything’ can be rendered incorrect. Douglas makes several references to the childhood and youth of the soldiers depicted in his poetry and this perhaps also alludes to a type of emasculation that is somewhat more covert and elusive than in its prosaic and theatrical counterparts. For instance, in his poem ‘How to Kill’ the speaker specifically analyses the movements and characteristics of his target seen in his ‘dial of glass’. Douglas adopts a tone that may induce a certain amount of pathos in the reader as he highlights both the youth and vulnerability of ‘the soldier who is going to die’. The speaker’s recognition of how this soldier ‘moves about in ways his mother knows’ reminds the reader that this soldier is also a son and arguably forces the reader to perceive him as a child. This also pos- sibly reveals and hints at the suffering of young men and their feelings of emasculation; being thrust into the ‘stomach of warxivand forcing them to turn from ‘a child…into a man’. This perhaps shows evidence of Douglas’ stance as an introspective poet with a real appreciation of the tragedy of nostalgia and youth in war. When looking for further evidence of Douglas’ implementation of pathos relat- ing to the themes of youth and vulnerability it is possible to refer to ‘Gallantry’ which again depicts youth in a lamentable sense. Douglas injects emotion into his work by using – as Goldman points out – ‘strong language’, for example naming one solider as a ‘doomed boy’ which both highlights the delicate youth and naivety of the soldier but also forces the reader to infer that this ‘child’ is going to die. Douglas’ use of the adjective ‘doomed’ fundamentally holds calamitous connotations, and are highly intensified when relating to the ‘doom’ of a child.
Douglas also seems to address the tragic nature of nostalgia most prolifically in his incomplete poem entitled ‘Actors Waiting in the Wings of Europe’ in which the speaker, as a collective member of the soldiers of the Second World War, claims that ‘everyone…will use these minutes to look back’ which ultimately hints at the prospect of memories of their lives before the war. This perhaps suggests a rather morose and cataclysmic view of the fate of these soldiers due to the usual connotations to the idiom of ‘life flashing before your eyes’ in the moments before one dies. Douglas is possibly – and fatalistically – suggesting that these soldiers are fundamentally doomed to die in war and some such as Douglas himself are fully aware of this themselves. This can be linked to the mental suffering exhibited in Sherriff’s play, especially when contemplating Stanhope’s reliance upon alcohol as a means to forget his impending fate and also his life before the war and his romantic relationship that awaits if he returns home. Robert Littell stated that ‘all the men in Journey’s End are seen not as soldiers, he- roes, or villains, but as individuals’ and this further brings to light the personal nature of the nostalgia felt by these soldiers whilst they were at war, thus further burdening them with an intensified mental suffering. Also, in a contextual audience viewing the play at the time of its first performance in 1929, as this is only just over a decade after the conclusion of the war, it is likely that there will be many people within the audience who would have known someone who had died in the war. As there were at least 250,000 soldiers in service who were under the age of nineteen and so it is even more likely that Raleigh’s death, along with some of Douglas’ depictions of young men in his poetry, would have a profound impact upon both a contextually relevant and a present day audience, and reveal the fundamentally tragic nature of wartime youthful death. This also seems to allude to the mental suffering inflicted upon those at home as opposed to the front line, as even a modern day audience would find personal links to war in their ancestry, thus furthering the authentic nature of the emotion presented in Douglas’ presentation of the tragedies of death in war and its effect upon those who bear its burden.
Barker seems to deal with the theme of the tragedy of youth and nostalgia more prominently than Douglas, especially through the portrayal of characters such as Burns who inhabit Craiglockhart. Bowman concedes that the ‘delicate balance of life and the frailty of the human condition caused by an unbalance is a constant theme in Regeneration’xix and this is consistently evident in Barker’s con- struction of language. In Regeneration Barker utilizes emotive language as a means of manifesting pathos in somewhat a similar way to that of Douglas if viewing him as an introspective poet. When first introducing Burns, Barker states that ‘the most distressing feature of his case was the occasional glimpse of the cheerful and likable young man he must once have been’ and this perhaps ultimately illustrates the themes of tragedy and nostalgia and the mental suffering that the prospect of nostalgia catalyses; as now Burns is now ‘merely the skin-and-bone casing for a tormented alimentary canal. His suffering without purpose or dignity.’ The imagery of Burns’ body as ‘the skin-and-bone casing’ for a tormented mind crafted by Barker seems to completely encapsulate the mental suffered by Burns. In depicting the image of Burns’ body as being ‘skin-and-bone’, the reader may find themselves enlightened with a sense of both the physical and thus the mental effect of the tragic nature of war and the pain of nostalgic innocence. His body has physically become malnourished due to his mental suffering and in metaphorically labeling his body as a ‘case’ this further intensifies the state of entrapment in which Burns is contending with his mental trauma which seems an alien being in comparison to his life as a ‘cheerful and likable young man’xxii before the war. All of this does seem fundamentally highlights the calamitous transformation that Bowman hints at in her contention and Burns’ character seems to fundamentally act as a synecdoche of the traumatic experiences in the war and how this molds a lamentable shadow that plagues the lives of those affected by war.
Ultimately, to fully comprehend the ways in which war literature presents the mental suffering of soldiers it is important to thoroughly delve into the facets of post-traumatic stress and shell-shock, which is predominantly examined in Barker’s novel Regeneration. Throughout the novel, Barker frequently highlights the constant struggle faced by those men who have faced horrors in war even in their everyday activities after returning home. In the first chapter, Barker seems to illustrate the many facets of shell-shock, including symptoms relating to ‘triggers’. It is important to note that from a modern perspective when Barker wrote her novel, issues surrounding mental illness have gain a high- er level of tolerance when compared with its contextual setting. This perhaps encourages a more sympathetic view on the part of the reader as they are accustomed to a social context with a more supportive ethos as opposed to the pejorative perceptions shown throughout then novel on the part of the public, and the labeling of the soldiers in Craiglockhart as ‘shirkers’ and ‘cowards’. Barker describes Sassoon’s experiences at a train station in which as ‘the whistle blew. Immediately he saw lines of men with grey muttering faces clambering up the ladders to face the guns’, and this ultimately indicates the difficulties faced by those returning from war and their processes of integrating themselves back into normal society. In depicting these men as ‘grey’ Barker is possibly bolstering the lethargic and lifeless state in which these men exist within. This perhaps alludes to their lives now being in a constant condition of purgatory; thus not fully living, but not dead either, in the same way that the color ‘grey’ is a halfway point between the colors ‘black’ and ‘white’.
Douglas’ poetry arguably also deals with this condition of purgatory in ‘simple, point-blank, bull’s- eye statement[s]’xxiii as stated by Hughes, with a concentration upon the purgative state between boy- hood and manhood. Douglas’ frequent recognition of youth and nostalgia such as his reference to a soldier’s mother in ‘How to Kill’ and the contemplation of the ‘doomed boy’ in ‘Gallantry’ does bode reminiscent of Barker’s portrayal of the soldiers’ purgative state between the living and the dead. Both writers seem to hold the mutual intention to represent the tragedy of war through the use of pathos as the ultimate recognition of humanitarianism and the fragility of life. Bourke claims that ‘emotional traumas were responsible for one-third of all discharges’xxiv from the army, and this is a heavily apparent facet of Douglas’ writing as a poet on the front line and also further validates Barker’s recognition of the need for verisimilitude to be a consistent feature of her novel. Sassoon’s momentary ‘flashback’ seems to reveal the extent of how war neurosis affected many thousands of men on their return from war. This also intensifies the tragic tone of the novel, as the reader is constantly aware that the novel is primarily based upon characters who – although fictionalized – arguably act as a synecdoche for the real men who dealt with the mental suffering depicted. The character of Burns continues to support Baker’s recognition of the need for verisimilitude when composing war literature, however this is brusquely challenged when reconsidering Graham’s contention that ‘there’s a pretense if you were trying to write about [war] from the outside’xxv. Graham came to this conclusion when contemplating Douglas’ work and it is also possible to align this view to that of Journey’s End as a play directed by first-hand experience. The contextual relevance of Douglas and Sherriff perhaps intensifies the calamitous torment with a more profound effect of verisimilitude as opposed to Barker. This possibly illustrates the intrinsic crux of how war literature and the presentation of mental suffering is portrayed, in that it is perhaps equitable to assert that it is not entirely feasible to capture a truly veracious portrait of the trauma languished in by those who have experienced war ‘from the outside’ in the way that Barker does in her novel.
i Graham, Desmond. Professor of Poetry / Douglas Biographer
ii Patterson, Hanna. “Gender Roles and Hypnosis” (Spring 2004)
iii Barker, Pat. Regenertaion London: Penguin, 2008. First published in 1991
iv Sherriff, Robert Cedric. Journey’s End Oxford: Heinemann Educational, 1993. First published in 1929
v Sherriff, Robert Cedric. Journey’s End Oxford: Heinemann Educational, 1993. First published in 1929
vi Freud, Sigmund. Introduction to Psychoanalysis and the War Neuroses London: The International Psyho-analytical Press, 1921
vii Freud, Sigmund. Introduction to Psychoanalysis and the War Neuroses London: The International Psyho-analytical Press, 1921
viii Loughran, Tracey. Review of Shell-shocked: trauma, the emotions and the First World War (review no. 1173)
ix Barker, Pat. Regenertaion London: Penguin, 2008. First published in 1991
x Barker, Pat. Regenertaion London: Penguin, 2008. First published in 1991
xi Douglas, Keith. Collected Poems London: Faber & Faber Limited, 2000. First published in 1978
xii Hall, John Clive. Poet.
xiii Douglas, Keith. Collected Poems London: Faber & Faber Limited, 2000. First published in 1978
xiv Douglas, Keith. “Actors Waiting in the Wings of Europe” Collected Poems London: Faber & Faber Limited, 2000. First published in 1978
xv Douglas, Keith. Collected Poems London: Faber & Faber Limited, 2000. First published in 1978
xvi Goldman, Mark. “Keith Douglas; War Poetry as ‘Significant Speech.'” Durham University Journal 51(1990): 217-226.
xvii Douglas, Keith. Collected Poems London: Faber & Faber Limited, 2000. First published in 1978
xviii Littell, Robert. “Journey’s End Broadway in Review” Theatre Arts Monthly Magazine, London: Theatre Arts Inc. 1929
xix Bowman, Alice. “Restoring the Balance” (Spring 2004)
xx Barker, Pat. Regenertaion London: Penguin, 2008. First published in 1991
xxi Barker, Pat. Regenertaion London: Penguin, 2008. First published in 1991
xxii Barker, Pat. Regenertaion London: Penguin, 2008. First published in 1991
xxiii Hughes, Ted. Introduction to Selected Poems by Keith Douglas. Ed. Ted Hughes. Faber and Faber, 1964.
xxiv Bourke, Joanna. Shell Shock in WW1 http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/war/wwone/ shellshock_02.shtml
xxv Graham, Desmond. Professor of Poetry / Douglas Biographer
Human Decency in a World of Human Waste
Arguably, the presentation of waste is demonstrated in Journey’s End as the futility of war and the loss of innocent soldiers. There are subtle signs of foreshadowing throughout the exposition of the play, like referring to the “ foul smell of bacon”, which contextually was something that soldiers recalled smelled like decomposing bodies in the trenches, portraying the soldiers being slaughtered like animals for meat. The characters themselves contrast this, as Sherriff portrays each of their coping mechanisms and their dependence on each other to keep their sanity as they prepare for the impending attack from the opposition. Sherriff described his characters as “simple, unquestioning men who fought the war as it seemed the right and proper thing to do”, portraying the effects of propaganda on young men at the time that lead them blindly into war without proper preparation for what they would have to face, and being unable to leave once they had arrived, else they’d be shot for desertion. The ways in which each character handles their emotional stress whilst at war portrays their humanity in an inhumane situation.
One instance where humanity in war is showcased is in Act 2, when Osborne describes to Raleigh how the German soldiers allowed the British to go into no man’s land to rescue one of their men who had been shot in battle and screaming in pain for over a day, and shone a torch for them to find their way back to the trenches in the darkness. This signified the decency and respect the oppositions had for each other, recognizing the humanity in one another and the futility of the situation both sides had been placed in by their governments, demonstrating true camaraderie between soldiers, no matter the side they were fighting for . Even Raleigh, who had only been in the trenches for a day, recognized the concept of war as ‘silly’, showing his perceptive nature and how quickly the horror and hollow constitution of war would take effect on soldiers, especially young and impressionable ones like Raleigh. This camaraderie was exemplified many times throughout the war, the most famous of which being the football match in no man’s land on Christmas Day 1914, where both sides called a day-long truce for the celebration. The fact that after making friends with the opposition, they had to go back to bombing each other shows how war was a waste of innocent lives and the overcoming of differences to form friendships, again demonstrating how the soldiers were only at war because of societal expectation and the power of the government.
Arguably, the character of Osborne is vital to the play as his main, self assigned duty is to protect the sanity of his comrades as they wait for weeks on end for the huge attack they have been anticipating, taking on an avuncular role to nurture and comfort those around him. His nickname among other officers, ‘Uncle’, show how this character does anything he can to help his peers feel less afraid and to provide them with reasons to stay motivated, usually reminding them of life back home, demonstrating how Osborne goes far beyond showing human decency, but showing compassion for those he is at war with. One of his strongest emotional connections is with Stanhope, who trust him with the harsh reality of his alcoholism, demonstrating what a trustworthy and unjudging character he is. In Act 1, Osborne assists the very drunk Stanhope to his bed whilst reassuring him that his responsibilities could wait until the next day. The stage directions read that he ‘takes the blanket and puts it over him’, tucking Stanhope into bed like a father to his son, showing the strong bond between the two characters.Osborne also takes Raleigh under his wing, conversing with him about rugby as it is the only interest they have in common with Raleigh having so little military experience and being so young. Osborne makes himself relatable to Raleigh by telling him he played for the English rugby team, which astonishes Raleigh and makes him idolize Osborne. His claim of playing for England may or may not be true, but it definitely distracted Raleigh from his worries of the upcoming attack, which perhaps was Osborne taking advantage of his schoolmaster’s experience to be empathetic towards Raleigh.
Another key feature of Osborne’s character was helping everyone around him keep perspective and not be overcome by the horrors due to take place in the attack. When speaking of the war itself, he tells Raleigh to “think of it as – as romantic, it helps”, implicating that beneath his strong exterior, he too has faced the intense fear the war placed upon soldiers, which could be portrayed as weakness, or perhaps a portrayal of his humanity, as he is not robotic enough to escape the emotional pressure of war – something that it appears stanhope attempts to do through his excessive drinking of whisky.Osborne’s gentle and reassuring nature are a stark contrast to the brutality of war, making his character feel very out of place in such an environment, but perhaps Sherriff chose to do this to profoundly affect the audience when Osborne is killed during the raid. This may have been Sherriff’s portrayal of the reality of war, emphasizing how nobody was safe from the tragedies that occurred, no matter how good or kind the soldiers in question were. This could make the audience connect with the idea that names on war memorials are not just names, but connected to real people like Osborne who did not deserve to be killed, reviving history and respect for those who were lost. It was Sherriff’s intention to force his audiences of the time to remember the loved ones they had lost and to face the emotional turmoil that the war had left everyone in.
Interestingly, audience’s are divided when it comes to the decency of Stanhope’s character, as his level of self control fluctuates depending on who he is addressing and how much alcohol he has consumed. His hard exterior and inner sentiment demonstrate his humanity being broken down by the war, causing the contrast between his cruel outbursts and hysterical laughter. His ever growing dependence on alcohol show his life going to waste, when so many soldiers in his company look up to him. Osborne tells Stanhope, who shows his fright through anger, that Raleigh’s idolization of him is a good thing, to which Stanhope replies only “as long as the hero’s a hero”, demonstrating his self doubt and deprecation, and lack of self worth, not seeing himself as a heroic figure, even after receiving the Victoria Cross for his contributions to the army. The audience understand that this doubtful reaction implies Stanhope’s fear that Raleigh will one day end up in his position of rapidly deteriorating mental health and dependence on alcohol, which also shows his deep affection and care for Raleigh in a brotherly manner, which even he will not admit to himself.
Stanhope admits to Osborne, his closest confidant that “without being doped up on whisky – I’d go mad with fright!” showing a far more sensitive and humane side to himself that if he shared with more people, they would be far better friends with him and more than just comrades; for example in the exposition when Hardy shows minimal empathy for Stanhope’s drinking problems, calling him “a freak”, not demonstrating a relationship based on mutual respect like strong friendships are. Contextually, soldiers drank whisky to numb physical and emotional pain, to pass the time, and to give them ‘Dutch courage’ to stay brave enough to participate in the worst of battles, explaining why Stanhope depends on it so much to keep himself and his company motivated. Alcohol can, however, make Stanhope mellow, as it leads to him saying “kiss me, Uncle” to Osborne during Act 1, bringing out an affectionate and humorous side to his character, something the audience may imagine to be comforting whilst living in a war zone, the bond between the characters chosen by Sherriff to highlight the importance of camaraderie and soldiers’ dependence on each other to make it through the war, as well as to make the audience far more heartbroken when Osborne is killed, leaving Stanhope to continue surviving alone.
However, Stanhope’s sinister and cruel treatment of Hibbert during Act 2 shows how the fear corrupting his mental health is making him unstable and unreasonable, as he tells Hibbert “I’d have you shot”, showing a vicious lack of compassion towards the officer as he refuses to let him go on leave to receive treatment for his neuralgia, calling him a “swine”. Although it is clear to the audience that here Stanhope is inexcusably menacing with questionable morals, they can perhaps understand why he acts out in such a way. Stanhope had been in the front line for over three years, with every man he started with been killed, making him feel isolated and perhaps a sense of survivors guilt that they all died yet he didn’t, explaining why he finds desertion from the army so outrageously disrespectful. Contextually, people were shot for trying to leave the army as it was perceived as such a shameful act that they did not deserve to live, and would often send home telegrams telling families that the soldier was shot in action rather than for desertion to spare bringing shame upon the grieving family. This is an example of Sherriff portraying the decency of soldiers helping each other uphold their honor, even though Stanhope’s technique could be perceived as rather inhumane.
In conclusion, Sherriff successfully manages to create the sense that his characters in the war contrast the terrible acts taking place around them, and that the loss of a soldier’s life is a waste, and the concept of war itself is futile.
Stanhope as a Leader
Arguably, Stanhope often proves himself an effective leader throughout Journey’s End through his prioritizing of others’ needs above his own. Gerald Brooks said that “when you become a leader you give up the right to think about yourself”, which is definitely the case for Stanhope’s character, as he sacrifices sleep to stay up doing paperwork and to keep the men on the front line company as they suffer through the night shift, creating a strong sense of unity and camaraderie throughout the battalion, giving them the motivation to keep fighting in the war. It is mentioned in Act 1 that Stanhope was the captain of the rugby team whilst at school, implying his natural instinct to lead others, and the fact that he is so young yet made commander of C Company suggest he has proven himself an effective leader to secure this important role in the army. However, he is often hostile and resentful towards other characters, predominantly Raleigh, stemming from his experience of loss during the war and his fear of losing someone he cares for so deeply, presenting his introverted love for the men most important to him, Raleigh and Osborne. There are moments throughout the play wherein the audience question Stanhope’s mental stability, yet Sherriff leaves the audience with the overall impression of Stanhope’s commitment to his job and deep care for the men he commands.
At times Stanhope’s leadership is questionable, as he takes on a menacing, authoritative facade whilst trying to convince Hibbert not to desert during Act 2 Scene 2, threatening to shoot him rather than let him be sent home for a false case of neuralgia. Contextually, the horrors of war became for too much for many men to cope with, leading to their insanity or desertion, the latter resulting in death by firing squad if they were caught and bringing shame upon their family. This is something that Stanhope threatens to spare Hibbert from, telling him “better to die from pain than deserting”, emphasizing the backlash that he would be faced with if he chose to leave his company, and reminding him that death would be preferable to such shame. Stanhope goes on to call him “swine”, connoting a deep contempt and disdain for his behavior, and implying that he looks down on men like Hibbert who are “deserters”. This conjoined with the fact that Stanhope coerces Hibbert into hitting him portray a manipulative and tyrannical leader abusing his power, leading to the audience’s strong dislike for his character in that moment. However, the audience don’t necessarily condemn Stanhope for his volatile outburst and loathing of Hibbert, as he symbolizes everything Stanhope detests – weakness and cowardice. The stem of his denigration is from the fact that he’s seen so many comrades die, and he finds it disgraceful and belittling of their sacrifice for his men to not have the same vigor and commitment to ending the war. In Act 1 he tells everyone in the dugout they’re all “going to take an equal chance – together”, planning to regimentedly lead by example, arguably the most effective form of leadership and creating a sense of unity between soldiers, keeping up morale and priding himself on on the bravery and commitment of his company.
However, Sherriff changes Stanhope’s body language and speech profusely – along with the tone of the scene by alleviating much of the tension – in the space of a few lines as Hibbert waits to be shot, as he is “[smiling]” and “[gently placing his hand on Hibbert’s shoulder]”, portraying a far stronger leader to put aside his frustration and console his officer. Sherriff’s choice of language at this point, including “gently” expose some of Stanhope’s more vulnerable attributes to Hibbert, which include his sense of compassion and his willingness to comfort those who need it. Perhaps encouragement was his aim when he scared Hibbert – a guess at what could be an effective way of leading as he doesn’t know Hibbert well, and from that confrontation he learned that the best way of connecting with him was to make a personal connection and to show him sympathy for his emotional trauma. Stanhope also calls Hibbert “good man”, a huge contrast to his previous ferocity and disdain for the officer, implying Stanhope’s mental instability or perhaps his deep care for Hibbert in that he’d go as far as to become dictatorial simply to persuade him to do the right thing and behave as an honorable soldier. The audience watch as Stanhope shows Hibbert sympathy and respect, and validates his fears, saying “I know what you feel Hibbert – I’ve known all along”, a huge breakthrough for Stanhope’s apathetic and emotionally inept character to reveal his true fears, especially to Hibbert who he has never had a strong bond with and continues to despise throughout the rest of the play. The audience could perceive these actions as tactful to persuade Hibbert to stay, or perhaps a show of strong leadership as he puts aside his distaste for Hibbert to do his duty and keep him motivated to fight the war.
Stanhope resorts to reminding Hibbert of the morbidity of war and the solace that lies in death, telling him “if you’re killed you – you won’t have to stand this hell anymore”, using this macabre thought as motivation to get him to stay. This could be Sherriff’s intention to portray how some soldiers rarely truly believed in a future outside of the war after watching so many of their men die, and the despair they must’ve felt being trapped in trenches for such long periods of time. Stanhope’s actions of finding a way to connect with Hibbert to provide him with consolation, disregarding his own personal boundaries show how he is an effective leader and will do whatever it takes to boost the morale of his men, and he takes the time to get to know them to know what will bring them comfort in such a harsh environment. Stanhope also reminds Hibbert to “think of all the chaps who’ve gone already […] sometimes I think it’s lonelier here.” The symbolism of heaven as an escape from the suffering these soldiers are experiencing may be intended to sadden the audience as they begin to understand the true psychological effects war had on soldiers, and admire the sacrifices they made for their country whilst under so much distress and pressure to maintain a strong and masculine appearance. It is clear that soldiers like Stanhope saw little hope for the future besides death, showing how desperate they were to go home to their loved ones and be alleviated of the horrors they’d endured, and how they would sooner die than live through the merciless onslaught of the enemy. This also highlights the solitariness of war and the importance of camaraderie to cope, which was Sherriff’s main intention to show his audience through his play, and the strength Stanhope’s character must hold to uphold an authoritative reputation with the men, when really he is shown to be just as stressed and frightened as they all were.
Stanhope also shows respect for the other officers and reminds Hibbert to consider them in his personal decisions, asking him rhetorically “don’t you think it’s worth standing in with men like that?”, showing how, as a strong leader, he values his comrades and the work they do and believes that they should hold the same admiration for each other. Stanhope’s calming of Hibbert and persuading him to do the honorable thing is very similar to how Osborne relaxes Stanhope, suggesting that Stanhope too has the potential to become an avuncular figure to Hibbert, portraying influence and trust, both of which would strengthen Stanhope as a leader. However, perhaps Osborne is the true leader of the officers in the dugout, even if he doesn’t have the title, as it is he who emotionally supports Stanhope, and without him, Stanhope couldn’t lead the company as he’d be too emotionally unstable and would have no one to turn to when he needed to put down his facade and be himself, Dennis, not the powerful Captain Stanhope role he takes on for days on end. We see the close bond between Osborne and Stanhope in Act 1, when drunk Stanhope shares his vulnerabilities and concerns about Raleigh joining the company, and Osborne validates his worries, but also distracts him and convinces him to get to bed. When Stanhope laughs “tuck me up, Uncle”, Sherriff is really portraying the importance of friendship in war, and how nobody, not even Stanhope, can be a good leader without a confidant for his true emotions, vulnerabilities and the reality of his experiences. This greatly contrasts how Stanhope reacts to Hibbert telling him to “get to bed” in Act 3, as he becomes furious at the mention of anyone else trying to take care of him besides Osborne, who at this point had just that day died, connoting the importance of the relationship between the two for Stanhope’s sanity and the success of the raid, both of which are arguably lost by the denouement of the play.
Although Stanhope has irregular tendencies for emotional (often cruel) outbursts when he’s been drinking whisky, this ineffective coping mechanism is backed with good intentions as he aims to stop himself from emotionally crumbling under the pressures of war, demonstrated by Sherriff when Stanhope tells Osborne “without being doped up on whisky – I’d go mad with fright!” Stanhope’s desperate attempt to numb himself from the pain of losing his comrades and the emotional pressure he faces by being in charge of so many lives shows his affectionate intentions, and his devotion to being a good leader and role model is what makes him so. Contextually, whisky was used as a coping mechanism for soldiers “to forget” the horrors that they witnessed, such as Stanhope does after Osborne’s death. As well as being readily available, whisky numbed physical and emotional pain for short periods of time, giving the soldiers ‘Dutch courage’ before they went into battle to reduce their nervousness a little, and proving useful to allow soldiers who had survived those battles sleep, which they were often unable to do due to PTSD unless they were blackout drunk. In the exposition, Hardy’s disdain for Stanhope “drinking like a fish” demonstrates how every soldier had a different coping mechanism, and perhaps were not always too sympathetic to one another. Hardy highlights Stanhope’s obvious dependence on alcohol, just as fish cannot function without water, and sees it as part of his personality, rather than an escape from the war around him. Although Stanhope’s alcoholism makes him irritable and unpredictable at times, it also makes him able to be a strong and altruistic leader, as without it, we imagine he, like Hibbert, could be described as a “pathetic little worm”, his weaknesses showcased by his lack of distraction from the war.
In conclusion, Stanhope shows many qualities of an excellent leader, and as Raleigh wrote in his letter home, “the men simply love him”, showing his powerful act truly does motivate the men and gain their respect, and his emotional breakdowns only ever appear in the comfort of the dugout, which the audience cannot judge Stanhope for because of the horrors he’s faced at war. He is a flawed, vulnerable, hostile, yet compassionate character; a complex consequence of the effects of war. Overall, he presents himself as a strong and capable leader, but will show his humanity and emotions when away from the men and in private.