Religion in Barker’s books Essay

July 16, 2021 by Essay Writer

Updated: Dec 20th, 2019


The story of Abraham in ‘The Ghost Road’ and ‘Regeneration’ epitomizes the theme of sacrifice in the novels. It is an overarching representation of what can occur when people prioritize their ideologies over their daily responsibilities, even towards their family and friends.

Abraham in the books

Any mention of Abraham in religious circles solicits sentiments about faith. This stems from Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice the life of his son in order to adhere to his spiritual principles.

In both novels, many characters have a strong respect for authority. They are more than willing to engage in irrational behavior in order to meet these obligations. Therefore, the novels illustrate what can happen when people place too much importance on authoritative figures and certain ideals.

Individuals can abandon everything that makes them human in order to implement these ideals. Indeed, Pat Barker wanted to prove that man will sacrifice everything he has if he thinks that he is doing it for a greater good.

There are a number of explanations concerning why Abraham opted to sacrifice his son. Some scholars believe that fear motivated Abraham. He was extremely afraid of this divine and supreme being that he could not even think about questioning him. In the parable, Abraham was quiet when God talked to him before providing the ram. He also did not have an answer for his son when his son wondered what they were going to do.

He hesitated and almost felt some paralysis in his arm. Analysts explain that there is a correlation between fear and obedience. If Abraham did not fear God, then he would not have committed such an extreme act.

Similarly, fear motivates the characters in Pat Barker’s books. Their participation in the horrific war was reflective of their obedience to people in authority and the dictates of society. In Regeneration, Sassoon strongly opposes the war; it is this reason that puts him in ‘shell-shock therapy’ in the first place. He protests against it and feels that he does not want to do it again (Barker Regeneration 14).

However, he eventually returns to combat after asserting that his views about the war are still intact although he is afraid of returning to France. It is these fears of societal expectations that cause him to perpetuate the same horrors he opposed. Just like Abraham, Sassoon was willing to sacrifice his personal values owing to fear.

Similarly, the Board’s decision deeply disappointed Prior. When they told him that his asthma attacks would not permit him to go back to combat, he feared what others would think of him. They would call him a coward and a failure; this fear of people’s reaction also caused Prior to be willing to sacrifice his life for the war.

The ideologies represented in the book are reflective of what happens in male-dominated or patriarchal societies. Some expectations are so deeply engrained in peoples’ psyche that it does not even bother them. No one questions or thinks about the role accorded to persons in positions of power because these structures have trickled down from generation to generation.

People are willing to go through or implement irrational actions because this is symptomatic of a collective agreement, which is secluded from the personalized status of the individuals. Groups have accepted the role and influence of other people as standard setters. Characters in the two novels did not bother about questioning the contradictory nature of their reality because it was the status quo.

Dr. Rivers felt that it was only natural for him to perform his duty of returning soldiers back to combat even when many of them either opposed the war or were not ready to go back (Barker Regeneration 44). It was his acceptance of the status quo that caused him to behave in such a manner. Sometimes the actions that he did were irrational, like the attempt at curing Peter who was a prostitute and a homosexual.

Dr. Rivers is facing a moral dilemma that he cannot solve throughout the whole novel. He must send soldiers back to a war that would even be worse for them than their prior experiences. Nonetheless, he performs his responsibilities without question. Abraham would never have thought about reevaluating his duties to God and his son because the status quo demanded that he put God first.

Likewise, Dr. Rivers, in Regeneration focused on the status quo by remaining loyal to his employers rather than the soldiers, who had become like his children. In Ghost road, many soldiers lost their lives for the sake of maintaining the norm, i.e. the war. Hallet sacrificed his life because of the prolonged conflict. His behavior was sometimes irrational given that he valued taking orders and obedience over and above his life.

In ‘Regeneration’, Dr. Rivers directly focuses on Abraham linking it to his own experiences. He thinks about the story of Abraham as found in the first book of the Bible; the verse that he focuses on talks about obedience and the willingness of subjects to sacrifice their life to inherit the earth.

Dr. Rivers believed that most of the war participants sacrificed their lives just like Abraham did in order to gain a greater advantage (Barker Regeneration 149). However, the story in this novel did not end as happily as the Bible story did. Individuals like Anderson, Prior and Burns suffered psychological and physical harm because authorities made and no interventions to spare them from torture.

In the Bible narrative, God provided for Abraham a ram that would prevent him from having to kill his own son. His faith and trust in the ultimate power bore fruit because it strengthened his relationship with God and spared his son. However, in real life, these entities that dictate what society should do, do not necessarily intervene in man’s situations.

He may make sacrifices, but may not reap the rewards because governments do not look out for his well being. As Dr. Rivers thought about the soldiers that went to war, he realized that their case was not as clear-cut as Abraham’s. God required Abraham to make that offering as a test of his faith, not as a means to an end.

Therefore, a sacrifice is a prerequisite to invaluable rewards. This is not true for the soldiers in the Regeneration. Dr. Rivers realized that his society was not meeting its end of the bargain.

It is quite interesting to note that instead of the young inheriting the earth as promised in the biblical verse of Genesis, young people in Europe were dying from all corners. The old men were laying back and enjoying the fruits of their son’s sacrifice.

Therefore, Pat Barker wanted to alter the original meaning of the narrative of Abraham by illustrating how it was evident in her society. The authorities manifested the irony in this narrative by using the supposed ‘inheritors’ of the earth to achieve their own objectives.

In the book ‘The Ghost road’, the relationship between Prior and some adults also illustrates this strange twist of the ancient, biblical tale. In his childhood, Prior’s Catholic priest raped him, and this created all the complications that he dealt with in subsequent phases of his life. He often struggled to maintain sexual control in his relationships, but never succeeded in doing so.

When interacting with Nellie (a prostitute), Prior considers their encounter as a quest for power. Even when he deals with Manning and Birtwis, Prior thinks of sex as a platform for gaining control over other individuals (Barker The Ghost 56). These misguided perceptions of intimacy were created by the Catholic priest.

Instead of safeguarding the future of one’s youngsters, the older generation was using the young ones for its own selfish gains. It is this falseness that led to the First World War as well as other problems in Europe. The concept of sacrifice in Abraham’s way of life was only done for the overall good of society; it was not as self serving as Barker’s Europe had become.

The author also emphasizes the consequences of failing to abide by the principles in Abraham’s story. Abraham was not motivated by his personal reasons; he deeply cared for Isaac and trusted that God knew best for them.

Revenge or failure to sacrifice for the right reasons results in a tragedy for those concerned. In ‘The Ghost road’, the characters Owen and Prior die in a dangerous battle (Barker Regeneration 277). Their death is symbolic of the price that family members must pay for choosing this selfish path of war.

However, death was not the only manifestation of this misguided course of action, the physical and psychological torture that many soldiers underwent also supported such a concept of revenge. A whole generation of men were injured or disturbed by the mental effects of war. The parties that sent them to the war were now paying the price for exposing their young ones to danger unnecessarily.

Furthermore, the war distorted gender lines in ‘The Ghost Road’; society regarded males as the dominant gender before participating in the war, but when young men left for combat, women had to do manual jobs. Sarah (Prior’s girlfriend) works for a machine company that defies strict masculine roles. In fact, this was one of the reasons why Prior and many other men from the war struggled with their masculinity.

They felt like they did not belong to their own society and thus became irrelevant. Indeed Dr. Rivers thinks about the level of powerlessness that confinement and war create in men.

Many of them have to endure prolonged periods of stress without having the capacity to change their circumstances (Barker The Ghost 33). The war blurred various gender lines and disempowered men. It was a way of placing revenge upon a society that prioritized its own goals over those of others at the time.


The story of Abraham as initially stated in the bible is a story about unquestioning faith and the steadfastness of a divine authority. However, Baker altered this narrative by showing how Europeans had failed to meet their end of the bargain. The older men sacrificed their young men in war and reaped their inheritance.

Furthermore, because participation was for selfish reasons then subjects had to be punished for it through death, physical and psychological injuries.

Additionally, the narrative of Abraham denotes man’s ability to employ irrational behavior in order to obey one’s authorities. Just like Abraham, these individuals will rarely question authoritative figures owing to their fear of them.

Works Cited

Barker, Pat. The Ghost Road. NY: Viking Press, 1995. Print.

—. Regeneration. NY: Viking press, 1991. Print.

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