How Stanhope Generates Conflict in the Opening Act
Journey’s End’ by R.C, Sherriff was written in the late 1920s when attitudes towards the First World War began to change and people began to realise the horrors of the war and face them. This play offers different view than most about the commanding officers of the war compared to media seen now, where generally they are seen as comic relief. The character of Captain Stanhope is introduced by many other characters, such as Hardy and Osborne, before entering himself on page twenty two. Stanhope creates conflict in many ways in the opening act of the play and even creates conflict when not on stage which highlights the importance of the character overall.
One way that Stanhope creates conflict in the opening act is through the use of different opinions that Osborne and Hardy have on him, which creates conflict between them. Osborne describes Stanhope as ‘the best company commander we’ve got’. The use of ‘we’ve’ shows that Osborne believes this is a common opinion amongst his fellow officers and could highlight that everyone disagrees with Hardy. This could also highlight the bond that the officers have with each other and how they make up a dysfunctional family, which could highlight why they are so loyal to Stanhope. Furthermore, the use of the word ‘got’ could also highlight that Osborne feels that Stanhope will never leave because he can only focus on war and doesn’t want his family to see the man he has become. To develop this further, the word may also highlight that Osborne is possessive of Stanhope because he is the ‘best’ and wouldn’t want any others to replace him, this is perhaps why Osborne is so defensive towards Hardy.
Osborne may want to defend Stanhope because he knows that Stanhope’s coping mechanism to war is by drinking and Hardy copes with war in others way and doesn’t understand Stanhope. This links to the idea that Osborne copes with the war by acting as a paternal figure to others, which is especially shown when Raleigh first enters. Hardy describes Stanhope as ‘drinking like a fish, as usual’. The use of the simile ‘like a fish’ highlights that Hardy has no sympathy for Stanhope and sees him as an object used for his personal amusement, rather than a man struggling with mental health issues. The use of the phrase after ‘as usual’ adds a sense that everyone else there knows about his habits and that Osborne should be embarrassed that he has to report to a man such as this. Additionally, this links to the idea that Hardy copes with the war through humour and perhaps doesn’t know how to be sympathetic towards Stanhope and uses a ‘fish’ as comic relief. This is further continued when Hardy uses the phrase ‘Stanhope really is a sort of freak’, highlighting that Hardy has no tact whatsoever and doesn’t care that Osborne could tell Stanhope about this conversation but this would be out of character for Osborne. Furthermore, this phrase also highlights that Hardy again sees Stanhope as a source of entertainment and perhaps calls him ‘freak’ because he is unsure how to express he feelings and cannot do this without being rude, even if he doesn’t mean it. Overall the importance of Stanhope is highlighted in the begging of Act One because he is mentioned by several characters before entering himself and many different characters have varying opinions on him based on their coping mechanism and attitudes towards the war. A second way that Stanhope creates conflict in the opening act is through him admitting his alcohol problems to Osborne through stage directions throughout page thirty-two and when he admits ‘I reek of whisky all day’, at the beginning of page thirty-three. This creates conflict as people in the audience may feel sympathy for him or may feel disgusted by his habits and think that he should assess himself before commanding anyone else. On page thirty-two Stanhope stage directions tell him to take [a gulp of his drink] and hold [ his glass up to Osborne]. The use of these highlights to the audience that Stanhope knows he has an alcohol problem and cannot admit it through words but only through actions. This furthermore creates conflict in the character of Stanhope himself because firstly he cannot admit to himself that he has problems out loud even though he can gesture it to others. And secondly he has an inner conflict because he doesn’t know what to do about seeing his family and showing them the man that he has become. The use of the word ‘gulp’ in the stage directions show that Stanhope may not even want to drink to cope with the war anymore but has to because he body depends on it. The verb ‘gulp’ also highlights that Stanhope feels great guilt in what his is doing and almost a sense of fear because now he has started he is unable to stop.
Later on, Stanhope finally admits to Osborne that ‘I reek of whisky all day’, this highlights that this feeling of Stanhope’s has been building up throughout the scene and that it can no longer be contained any longer. This sudden outburst could also highlight that Stanhope has reached a point where he can admit out loud that he has problems and must console in Osborne, who is naturally paternal, due to his own father’s absence in his life for the past three years. Additionally, the use of the verb ‘reek’ highlights that Stanhope cannot take the idea that he is an alcoholic and that he cannot stand the idea that everyone sees or smells him like this almost every day. To develop this point further the use of this also suggests that the he sees himself as a burden that others have to carry and this is seen a weak perhaps, this links to the idea of propaganda in the early period of the war and that if you didn’t find you were seen as weak or a cowardice. To continue even though Stanhope survived the war he is still seen as weak and conveys his realisation that he cannot ignore the reality of war anymore by drinking whisky. The audience may see themselves in Stanhope’s situation, because he is an archetype, fearing that no one at home would recognise them and being ashamed of the man that the war has made him. Nostalgia may further be created and add to this due to the naturalist representation of the war through the stage.
Stanhope creates conflict by finally admitting his alcohol problem to Osborne, which leads the audience to feel sympathy for his character or feeling disgusted because he could be seen as a coward. This overall was intentionally uses by Sherriff to create a divide in the audience also, those who don’t understand this problem and those who do not because they remain very patriotic or didn’t have an active role in the war. Furthermore, by accepting his coping mechanism Stanhope creates conflict because not everyone in the audience in the late 1920’s would have been ready to see the real horrors of the war due to PTSD or other mental health issues. Conflict is also created through other characters’ dialogue and how they cope with the war by humour or being nurturing. On the other hand, Stanhope could be seen as not creating conflict and that other characters are responsible for this because they are engaging in other conversations which create tensions, for example when Hardy is showing Osborne the dugout and how everything is in a bad state and how unorganised he is.
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Journey’s End’ by R.C, Sherriff was written in the late 1920s when attitudes towards the First World War began to change and people began to realise the horrors of the […]