The War Beyond the Battlefield Through the Eyes of Robert Ross

March 12, 2019 by Essay Writer

Timothy Findley’s, The Wars, is an intriguing novel that outlines the physical and internal battles of individuals during World War I. This novel focuses on the troubled life, the main character, Robert Ross, leads as he tries to escape his guilt for the death of his beloved sister Rowena. Robert enlists in the army and experiences the physical, psychological, and emotional hardships of war which alter the way he views himself and the world. The title, The Wars, is a metaphor for all these struggles. Findley uses these factors to demonstrate the different forms of war and how they negatively affect a human being like Robert Ross. Through the character of Robert Ross, Findley highlights the plurality of war while reinforcing the idea that war is not only fought on the front lines.

The title of the novel focuses on the physical battle that Robert and many of the soldiers face during their time at war. Throughout the novel, Robert experiences physical setbacks due to the weather conditions where he is stationed. These extremely cold and muddy conditions risk Robert’s life on many occasions. For example, Robert has his first near-death experience when he almost drowns in the dike. This event physically challenges Robert, forcing him to rely on his fellow soldier Poole in order to escape. Also, the gruesome environment of war negatively affects Robert and other soldiers since they are forced to live with the ongoing firing of weapons and the sight of thousands of dead soldiers decaying around them. “When they made their way back through the trench there was no one there alive. They had all been gassed or had frozen to death. Those who lay in the water were profiled in ice. Everything was green: their faces – and their fingers – and their buttons. And the snow” (Findley 131). Robert sees innocent men dying which destroys not only his morality, but creates a fear that paralyzes him from forming into his idea of a perfect soldier.

Furthermore, the war’s atmosphere does not allow Robert to regain his strength and reconnect with his physical or emotional self. “Sleep was dangerous… No matter what your mind said, your body didn’t listen. Part of you always stayed awake” (91). Robert cannot sleep in fear of an attack while his guard is down. This is one of his physical struggles since without sleep Robert’s body and mind cannot heal to prepare itself for the next day. Similarly, Robert battles with the change of his physical appearance due to the violence and emotional stress experienced during the war. “He could see himself now – pale in the aureole of the candlelight in the mirror. It was a shock. He seemed like a fugitive. His beard and the shadows round his sockets of his eyes made him look like an old, old man. He smiled. He’d thought he would stand and see himself like a god in the glass – and there he was: a scarecrow” (169). Robert sees the transformation of his body in response to the conditions of the war. Overall, the main character, Robert, battles with the physical stress created by the war. This struggle reinforces the significance of the title since it portrays the physical aspect of war.

Throughout Robert’s life, he is faced with many obstacles that negatively affect his psychological development as a human being and soldier. These obstacles challenge Robert’s mindset since it forces him to go against his morality and kill. For example, Robert is obligated to kill a horse that has broken its leg. This responsibility psychologically affects Robert since he is forced to end the life of an animal to which he feels emotionally connected. As well, Robert also battles with his impulse decision to kill a soldier. “Robert sagged against the ground. It was even worse than that. Lying beside the German was a modified Mauser rifle of the kind used by snipers. He could have killed them all. Surely that had been his intention. But he’d relented… The bird sang. One long note descending: three that wavered on the brink of sadness… It sang and sang and sang, till Robert rose and walked away. The sound of it would haunt him to the day he died” (131). Robert kills an enemy soldier who allows him and his men to escape the crater. This choice weighs heavily on Robert’s mind since he now lives to regret this moment until the day he dies. Furthermore, Robert struggles with his sanity and the sanity of his fellow soldiers. There are instances where Robert has trouble understanding the reasons behind the orders he’s given. “He wanted to advise Captain Leather of the state Levitt was in… he wanted to request another junior officer… he wanted to say the forward positions were crazy… he wanted to say that the guns would sink in the mud. But he didn’t say anything” (116). Robert struggles with obeying his commands because he believes the conditions of the war stripped his Captain of his sanity. This psychological battle leads Robert to his final act of rebellion, causing him too, to lose his sanity. Overall, Robert endures psychological hardships during his time at war which is represented in the significance of the title. “The title, The Wars seems to be referring not [only] to the actual physical combats that took place during the war but to the internal, psychological battles that took place in the minds of the soldiers who suffered the effects of violence and inhumanity during the war” (Quenneville). The title reinforces this idea and connects back to the meaning of The Wars.

The significance of the novel’s title is illustrated through the emotional hardships Robert experiences in and out of the war. In the beginning of the novel, Robert battles with the guilt of his sister, Rowena’s, death. This guilt creates an emotional obstacle that Robert continues to face throughout his time on the battlefield. “Robert looked. There was a whole row of cages. Rowena. Robert closed his eyes” (85). In the war, whenever Robert sees caged animals, he is reminded of the pain he feels for his sister. Robert emotionally suffers for the rest of his life since he cannot forgive himself for being absent in the time of Rowena’s death. “Robert is never able to forget the fact that he broke his promise by not being there to catch her when she fell. This changed Robert’s whole perspective on life… He no longer appeared to have feelings anymore but no one knew how much remorse he felt inside… In a sense, a large part of Robert died that day along with his sister” (Berringer). Robert is unable to cope with the loss of Rowena. This fatality changes his life forever.

Moreover, Robert struggles with the death of his best friend Harris. “Poole’s breathing was harsh and liquid. He’d probably caught a cold in the marshes. It reminded Robert of Harris – and that was the last thing he needed reminding of. All he wanted was a dream. Escape… But he kept running into Taffler. Throwing stones. And Harris” (91). Robert cannot escape his feelings towards Harris. He battles with losing his beloved friendship since Harris is the only person that helps Robert to feel whole again. Furthermore, Robert battles with his idea of the perfect soldier when he sees the physical state of his war hero, Captain Taffler. “Poor Robert Ross. It wasn’t fair. I’d bungled it and should have been more forthright when he’d mentioned Captain Taffler first. The shock was terrible. I tried to imagine someone like Michael losing both his arms and no one telling me and me just barging in and finding him that way” (150). For Robert, the heroic essence of Taffler is lost after Taffler loses both arms in the war. This incident emotionally scars Robert since Robert not only loses his role model but also questions what this means for his sense of self. The emotional struggle Robert faces throughout his life embodies the message of the title. “[Pluralizing wars] indicates that the novel is not only about the Great War, but also about internal battles that Robert Ross is fighting with himself as he struggles to adapt to a new way of life in the army and without his sister who he loved very much” (Quenneville). Robert’s struggle highlights the emotional aspect of war and reinforces the idea that one’s war is not only fought on the battlefield.

Ultimately, it is through Robert Ross’ character in which Findley outlines the plurality of war while maintaining the belief that war is fought both physically and mentally. In the novel, Robert experiences physical hardships created by the conditions of the war. These hardships negatively affect his character by altering his physical appearance. As well, Robert battles with his psychological development. He struggles with his sanity when he is forced to kill on the battlefield. Furthermore, the emotional hardships that Robert faces force him to question his self-worth. Findley uses these physical and internal struggles as a way to describe the message of The Wars. Overall, the plurality of war in the title is expressed throughout Robert Ross’ life. With Robert, the reader understands the multiple struggles an individual faces throughout his or her life. The reader relates to the underlying message Findley portrays since the physical, psychological, and emotional hardships people face are found throughout all aspects of life and not only in war.

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