Madness, Sanity, and Regeneration

June 6, 2019 by Essay Writer

In Regeneration, Barker presents the idea that there is a fine line between madness and sanity, in terms of the lack of differentiation between doctor and patient. The narrative, moreover, emphasizes the subjective nature of the word ‘madness’ itself. In this way, not only is madness explored in the context of Craiglockhart, but also as an isolated concept, questioning what it really means to be sane when the definition of such varies by era, culture, and person.

Barkers presents the idea of there being a lack of differentiation between Doctor and patient, in the way River’s self-diagnoses himself within the novel as being mentally ill himself, showing that the war was indiscriminate in the people that it impact. The quotation ‘War neurosis.’ Rivers said promptly ‘I already stammer and I’m starting to twitch’, shows that he has diagnosed himself as having the very thing that he is often trying to cure in his patients; shell shock. This fits with the idea that the concepts of madness and the symptoms such as ‘a stammer’ and ‘starting to twitch’ are so vague that really anyone could be considered mad, regardless of the actuality of their mental state. This vague definition links to the ambiguity surrounding shell sock and other psychological issues, showing that in the time period there was a lack of understanding about mental illness as a whole, and it was more used as an excuse. For example, Sassoon fit the criteria for having shell shock due to the stress he was under, the fatigue and the fact that he was upper class (who were believed to be more likely to get shell shock), therefore combined with his anti war ideologies, he is the perfect candidate to be sent to a mental hospital such as Craiglockheart. Madness is used as an excuse to suppress the things he is saying, showing that views that don’t conform to the general view of society are considered to be abnormal and wrong. This is shown by the quotation ‘Better mad than a pacifist’, which states that society would rather he was mentally ill than be against the war – as conveys the prevalent view at the time that the war comes first and no one should go against it. The fact that both the treater and the treated are arguably mad shows not only the breadth of the wars scope, but also highlights the thin line between madness and sanity in that not even the person who is trying to prompt sanity is truly sane himself.

Similarly, both Rivers’ and Sassoon’s madness is accredited to their anti-war sentiments and is arguably caused by them. Sassoon states ‘The maddest thing I ever did was under orders’, linking to the indoctrination of soldiers during WWI to just follow orders, despite the risk that would come with doing so, while Rivers’ madness is accredited to idea of spending time curing the soldiers just to send them to their deaths by participating in the war. In both senses, the two are perceived as being mad for being against the war, whereas perhaps the real madness is that those higher up can see the consequences, yet do nothing to stop them from happening. This is a perspective that a modern day reader may hold, due to hindsight and knowing that nothing productive will actually come from the countless losses of live, and this is also a sentiment expressed in My Boy Jack. The last scene of the novel shows Hitler coming into power, suggesting that the sacrifices made were futile and in vain, therefore it was madness to continue the fighting of the war that was supposed to end all wars, but obviously did no such thing. Overall, Barker emphasizes the idea of a thin line between madness and sanity through the representation of the characters Sassoon and Rivers.

Barker also calls attention to this conception by contrasting the characters Rivers and Yealland, to emphasize the subjectivity of the term ‘madness’. Hunt states that ‘You and Rivers [are] doing essentially the same thing’, referring to their common purpose and occupation, which is to cure the patient to the point that they can return to the front line. However, they use different methods, with Rivers focusing on talking therapy, and Yealland perhaps sharing Anderson’s sentiment that ‘Talking doesn’t help’ and using more forceful techniques. This is shown when he uses ‘electrodes’ to electrocute a patient into talking again. Despite their similarities, Hunt states that ‘I can’t imagine anybody less like Yealland – methods, attitudes, values – everything’, in reference to the more brutal methods aforementioned, though Rivers is the one considered to be mad, while many would consider Yealland to the be the mad one. Yealland treats his patients more like test subjects than anything else, and seems to have a lack of conscience, as shown in the quotation ‘Yealland actually looked gratified. He said, ‘Are you not glad to have made such progress?’. He is ‘gratified’ by the fact that his patient has started talking despite the pain he’s feeling, suggesting an absence of empathy, which is a characteristic commonly associated with psychopaths, as opposed to psychiatrists. Mindless hurting may link to the idea that the men in the war rarely feel remorse for what they have done, due to the fact that they are just following orders. Yealland’s focus in arguably more sane as he’s using any means possible in order to send the men back to the front line, while this is the idea that Rivers struggles with, and causes him to be against the war. Despite the violent methods, Yealland is considered to be the sane one out of the two due to that fact that he’s just doing his job, while a modern reader would regard him as sadistic, showing how madness is subjective and its definition alters over time.

However, in some ways Barker does present the idea that there is a clear divide between madness and sanity, namely in terms of the both the civilian and soldiers perspective of those with mental illnesses caused by the war. Anderson himself says ‘I suppose it is possible someone might find being locked up in a loony bin a fairly emasculating experience’, with the colloquial use of ‘loony bin’ being used as a form of disrespect to those in Craiglockhart, invalidating the fact that they have a legitimate problem. Despite being in the hospital himself, Anderson represents the view of society that those suffering from shell shock must be crazy, being less sympathetic than people generally are today. As well as this, Anderson seems to imply that emasculation is equal to madness, implying that once a male has lost their masculinity they too are considered to be abnormal. The idea that men must be strong and brave is an idea that is still held today, however it is perhaps less explicitly obvious. His use of ‘locked up’ is significant in that he feels like he is being imprisoned and punished for not being able to fight by being put in Craiglockhart and that they are being hidden from the rest of society due to shame. A reluctance to accept the repercussions of war is also mentioned later in the novel, when dismembered soldiers had been ‘pushed out here to get some sun, but not right outside, and not at the front of the hospital where their mutilation may be seen by passer-by’s’, showing that those who were considered ‘mad’ were segregated and hidden from the rest of society. In this way, the line between mad and sane is made explicitly obvious through the maintained separation of the two sides.

Overall, Barker presents the view that there is a thin line between madness and sanity. At least on the evidence of Regeneration, the two aren’t as uniformly separated as is to be expected. This situation is especially due to the subjective nature of defining both words and the wide scope of the impact that the war had, affecting everyone and essentially making everyone mad in one way or another, depending on the perspective of the person doing the diagnosis.

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