The Art Of War In Timothy Findley’s Novel The Wars
War. It symbolizes the conflict of longing for power through human brutality and violence. In literature, the use of war is to understand the struggle to find peace and harmony through destruction and chaos. In Timothy Findley’s novel, The Wars present war as a theme, and symbol as it invokes change and transformation through characters and plot. Findley demonstrates different literary techniques to show the division of war, the supporting characters’ difficulty to deal with their own personal battles, and the struggles the protagonist Robert Ross faces through his journey into war. Findley uses the character’s inability to cope with their internal struggles to emulate the harsh realities of war, and the inevitability of conflicts through desire.
The title, The Wars, demonstrates different literary techniques and perspectives that reflect the division of external and internal conflicts in the novel. Focused around the time of the Great War Findley presents war as a time of loss and turmoil by using imagery that evokes a sense of darkness and tragedy. “Then, there was a sort of glottal stop-halfway to nowhere. The spaces that had been opened filled with smoke and things began to fall. Helmets, books, canned goods, gas masks, and candles fell off the shelves. Then, the shelves fell. Then, the earth fell in clods.” The imagery of the items falling symbolizes how things are starting to come to disarray and foreshadows the intensity of war on the characters’ environment and self. The theme of war presents itself through the settings as it contrasts between the battlefield and the prairies. The battlefield presents as grim and depressing compared to the prairies that represent the beginning innocence and growth as it was the start of Roberts journey into war. The differences between the two settings allow there to be a shift in tone and feel to the plot to become more serious and harsher. “Horse, trees, and fields of flax once flourish here. Summer had been blue with flowers. Now it was a shallow sea of stinking grey from end to end. And this is where you fought the war.” (Findley 72) Findley’s use of war as a theme throughout the story allows there to be a contrast between good and bad, light and dark and the importance of setting to add depth to the plot.
No one is ever the same after the war. The external battles of World War 1 are the surface level of problems the supporting characters are dealing with. The theme of internal wars is shown through the characters especially those who have been in battle. Their character must face the psychological effects of trauma and struggle to find sanity through tribulations. Eugene Taffler a war hero and role model to Robert. Demonstrates the internal struggles of war because of his transformation from being heroic to becoming lost from being consumed with depression. “There wasn’t any answer, so I just went in. I wish I hadn’t and I’m glad I did. I guess it saved his life, but I don’t think I’ll be forgiven for that, Captain Taffler didn’t want to live-and, in my bungling way, I made him. Why do I always end up being mean no matter what I do?… The stumps where his arms had been raw and one hem was pumping blood in spurts across the floor. I dropped the flowers.” Taffler’s vulnerable state shows how physical damages the war left him has caused major trauma to his self-esteem. This psychological desperation for an escape is also seen through Rodwell. He is an interesting character as he connects to Robert for his love of animals and uses them to tether his guilt from the war by saving them from a merciless death. He commits suicide because he cannot bare to see his fellow soldiers become mad and tortured animals before him. He is overwhelmed with facing more death and hopelessness that he becomes insane as the effects of war have forced him to do whatever it takes to escape this hell.
The psychological damages of war are shown as invisible wounds, that develop internally and consumes the mind. “In a culture that values strength and determination and relies on persistence under adversity, reporting pain, depression, or the symptoms of PTSD is often seen as a sign of weakness or an inability to perform expected duties. The silent suffering of pain, depression, and PTSD can exacerbate the problem and intensify the symptoms.” This condition is present through all the war veterans in the novel as they all have psychological damages that cause them to question their morals and actions. The constant fear of death, the lack of sleep, becoming guilt-driven and emotions toward traumatic experiences causes them to cloud their judgment as their internal pains intensify as the war continues.
Throughout the book, Robert struggles to cope with the loss of his sister Rowena. He sees himself as her guardian and protector. When she dies, he feels the guilt consume him and the need to go to the war is a way of redeeming himself and atone from his failure to take care of her. Robert faces the internal struggle of dealing with the grief of his sister and going against his morals as a soldier. Robert faces many challenges throughout the book, especially the loss of innocence. Robert gets exposed more to sexuality, the pressures of masculinity and duty through his journey into war. Robert first loses his innocence when brought to the brothel. He is uncomfortable and seeks the need for privacy as he is ashamed of his behaviour. He becomes confused and conflicted once seeing Taffler’s homosexuality. His morals continue to test him more as he is told to kill the injured horse. Robert is a lover of animals and feels sick of the thought of harming one. He knows he must do it as a newly appointed lieutenant. The war Robert faces is through the frustration of his superiors and the anguish he feels that causes him to become self-doubtful.
Robert becomes violent and rash as he reflects over his experience of war and dwells over the past these causes him to struggle to cope with all his traumatic memories. “His temper, you know was terrible. Once when he thought he was alone and unobserved I saw him firing his gun in the woods at a young tree. I was a sight I’d rather not have seen. He destroyed it. Other times he would throw things down and break them on the ground, he broke his watch that way. I don’t know why. But he had a great deal of violence inside and sometimes it emerged this way with a gesture and other times it showed in his expressions when you found him sitting alone on the terrace or staring out of a window.” (Findley 158) He becomes triggered through animals that remind him of Rowena, violent when he faces the death of the innocent and is at the breaking point when he gets raped. When he burns the picture of his sister, it is a symbol of his protectiveness of his sister’s innocence from the cruel world. “This was not an act of anger-but an act of charity.” (Findley 180) Robert constantly feels the need for an escape from all the feelings that are holding him back. Yet, he still has hope after all he has faced. “Not yet… There in those two words in a nutshell-you have the essence of Robert Ross. And perhaps, the essence of what it is to be alive. Not yet has been my motto ever since. And here, I am.” Robert’s character shows how even after being through multiple wars physically and mentally he still clings onto hope for a better world. Robert presents himself as a war as he is battling for the desire for peace and order within himself.
War is many things in the novel. It is a feeling the character struggle to cope with, it is the setting that gives background and depth to the story and, it is a physical representation of the cruelty of human desire. “The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.” This quote from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War reflects the theme of war in the novel. The quote is saying that war is not all about military action and power. It explains how war is inevitable that conflict is sometimes unavoidable. The war the characters face is important as it allows them to grow. In the quote, it explains that war forces’ strength, but unable to hold onto can control you. The wars the character’s felt tested their mental strength and ability to overcome challenges. Even though the character struggled to find peace and were conflicted between madness and sanity it allowed readers to see how difficult facing war is. To overcome war is to have a strong conscious and mindset. The war many of the characters felt was the psychological damages the war leaves and moral inhibitions. The most prevalent war between Robert Ross and his emotions weakens his abilities to take hold of his sanity and potential to move forward.
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