How does Sherriff present Heroism in Journey’s End?

July 27, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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