My coursework question.

“War is young men dying and old men talking.” – Sean Bean.

In light of this attitude, how does Wilfred Owen in his poetry, Sebastian Faulks in ‘Birdsong’ and R.C Sherriff in ‘Journey’s End’ use form, structure and language to explore the negative impact war has on the young and vulnerable?

Journey’s End compared with the other texts.

‘Journey’s End’ is a play which focuses on a group of British Soldiers in the trenches. The play has three acts with everything taking place over four consecutive days. The confined timespan, claustrophobic setting and overwhelming feeling of doom creates a sense of unity. Like Wilfred Owen R.C Sherriff based his work on his own experiences in the war. He wrote Journey’s End to try and show audiences how men really lived in the trenches. He wanted people to recognise themselves, their friends, their sons and husbands in the characters on stage.

Throughout the play Sherriff varies the mood. He moves from moments of calm to tension, relief to drama, joy to sadness and anger to peace. The war setting allowed him to include the extremes of different emotions due to the unpredictable nature of war. Through this he showed a true understanding of human psychology and of the war itself.

Raleigh throughout the play is used to represent those soldiers who were young, naive and inexperienced arriving straight out of school. At the start Osborne states: “I hope we’re lucky and get a youngster straight from school. They’re the kind that do best.” The theme of the waste of youth can be seen in Owen’s poetry too. In ‘Anthem for doomed youth’ the waste of youth is highlighted by the mention of “stuttering rifles” and “patter out their hasty orisons”. This indicates the suddenness of death when on the battlefield. Also highlighting that the death was fairly certain for these young troops as it’s sudden because they have no idea when it is going to happen. This can also be seen in ‘Disabled’ as this poem is extremely emotional whilst exploring the theme of the waste of youth as the old soldier is comparing his present life to his past hopes and accomplishments and he realises the drastic change and the waste it has caused. Also in Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks he uses the young and naive character Ellis to emphasise the waste of youth. His death adds a layer of poignancy as Stephen must write to his mother to inform her of the news of her son’s death.

All three texts discuss the conflict between innocence and experience. Throughout both ‘Birdsong’ and Owen’s poetry change is often seen in negative terms: Europe moves from a state of tranquility and peace to one of chaos and death. However, in Journey’s End Raleigh’s character matures. We learn that change is only truly negative if we do not understand or learn from what we have lost or gained during the process. This relates to Owen’s poem ‘Futility’ when he questions the pointlessness of war due to its negative impact “Always it woke him, even in France, / Until this morning”. However, in Journey’s end we see this explored in the theme of comradeship when Raleigh first enters Osborne takes care of him and explains to him the trench life. Here we see the difference between innocence and experience as to Raleigh it’s “romantic” whereas to Osborne it’s not. This can also be seen when the men were “frightfully annoyed” about the disaster in their dugout whereas Raleigh refers to the trenches as “silly” highlighting his childlike language.

All three texts relate to nature throughout. Sherriff uses nature to set the scenes throughout the play. He uses the “moon”, “trees” and “birds” to try and create some normality to the lives of the soldiers whilst also contrasting the innocent (nature) and the human made evil (war). Faulks emphasises the natural beauty and tranquility of the Somme in the opening chapter which is later destroyed by the war. Later on in the novel during the battle Faulks describes a “cloudless sky”. This is symbolic as it reflects their distance from God almost as if God is ashamed of what humanity has done. Clouds are often related to the heavens and are seen as a soft blanket of comfort, by describing the sky as “cloudless” can therefore be seen as distancing themselves from God. This links to Owen’s poem ‘Spring Offensive’, when the fighting begins he writes “the whole sky burned / With fury against them”. It almost seems that nature can not longer save the men.

Overall, R.C Sheriff, Wilfred Owen and Sebastian Faulks explore how war can have a negative effect on the soldiers. This is highlighted through a range of themes and character developments. However, it is fact as war has had a psychological and physical effect on people from all different social class backgrounds.

Research:

After some research on various websites I have found a number of useful sources for various texts which have helped me:

King Lear:

Wilfred Owen:

The White Devil:

1000 word essay on ‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks.

The novel ‘Birdsong’ is set mainly during the First World War and through its central character, Stephen Wraysford. It uses three different time frames and always focuses on the effect that war had on Stephen, his generation and the implications that this has for the future of humanity. Through a combination of powerful dialogue and memorable, figurative imagery, Sebastian Faulks creates a picture of psychological, physical and even linguistic trauma.

Trench warfare began in September 1914 and ended in 1918. Trenches are an important part of the First World War as this is included in many literary texts and poems. Wilfred Owen’s poetry is visceral in its power and also articulates an authentic voice from the trenches about the trenches. In his poem ‘Strange Meeting’ he refers to a “profound dull tunnel” that is used to metaphorically describe both life and also death. ‘Birdsong’ is full of passageways and tunnels: at the beginning the Azaires’ house on the Boulevard du Cange has many passageways and corridors full of “unseen footsteps” and are “corridors that disclosed new corners”. Throughout literature the tunnels are commonly used to move characters from one state of being to another and none often emerge unchanged. This can be seen through Elizabeth who is first encountered in an emotional tunnel. In both ‘Birdsong’ and Owen’s poetry the tunnels represent death and rebirth as it can be seen as a grave which is awaiting for its occupants; this can be linked with ‘Dulce et Decorum est’ as a sinister image of soldiers limping back from the front to the trenches is described through the use of a simile, “coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge”.

Throughout ‘Birdsong’ Faulks uses religious symbolism to express the inhumanity of war. Faulks refers to Jesus “He found the word Jesus in his mouth. He said it again and again beneath his breath.” Although Faulks uses this as a cry for help, it has deeper symbolic meaning. Jesus sacrificed himself for the benefit of humanity, so that humanity can reach salvation. In World War One it was believed to be the war to end all wars. The soldiers believed that their sacrifice was to be for the benefit of the world akin to Jesus. Another religious symbol used throughout is the potent symbol of the cross. When Isabelle is sitting in church she sees in front of her “a wooden crucifix… lit by candles, the waxy flesh below the ribs pierced and bleeding”. There is correlation between the body of man and the body of Christ; both that are later associated with pain and sacrifice. The cross also is used to symbolise a loss of faith in a world that has to question the indifference that is felt by the universe for the suffering of humanity: the padre, “pulled the silver cross from his chest and hurled it from his… Jack knew what had died in him.” However, Owen also includes religious references such as in ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ where he describes the loss of faith for humanity “no prayers or bells / Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs.” This loss of faith and crosses can represent the countless deaths and sheer waste which was caused due to the war.

Both Faulks and Owen discuss the conflict between innocence and experience. Throughout both ‘Birdsong’ and Owen’s poetry change is often seen in negative terms: Europe moves from a state of tranquility and peace to one of chaos and death. However, Faulks’ use of Elizabeth’s character is necessary as it allows a different generation reconnect with the past. We learn that change is only truly negative if we do not understand or learn from what we have lost or gained during the process. This relates to Owen’s poem ‘Futility’ when he questions the pointlessness of war due to its negative impact Always it woke him, even in France, / Until this morning”. However, in ‘Birdsong‘ Faulks refers to the change by linking it to the morality and boundaries of human behaviour when he writes: “It was not all the tens of thoudands of deaths that mattered; it was the way they had proved that you could be human yet act in a way that was beyond nature.”

Both Owen and Faulks relate to nature. Throughout the opening chapter of ‘Birdsong’ both nature and symbolism are evident through the description of Amiens. The novel begins with the description of the rural village of the ‘Boulevard Du Cange’ which is situated in the city of Amiens, France. The language used to describe the place is pastoral and depicts a place of pre-industrialization: “On the damp grass were chestnut trees, lilac and willows, cultivated to give shade and quietness to their owners.”  He describes the Somme as “fertile”. This could be argued that Faulks has used this imagery to link Stephen and Isabelle’s relationship as Isabelle later falls pregnant. Faulks emphasises the natural beauty and tranquility of the Somme in the opening chapter which is later destroyed by the war. Later on in the novel during the battle Faulks describes a “cloudless sky”. This is symbolic as it reflects their distance from God almost as if God is ashamed of what humanity has done. Clouds are often related to the heavens and are seen as a soft blanket of comfort, by describing the sky as “cloudless” can therefore be seen as distancing themselves from God. This links to Owen’s poem ‘Spring Offensive’, when the fighting begins he writes “the whole sky burned / With fury against them”. It almost seems that nature can not longer save the men.

Overall, Faulks uses many techniques which are used by other writers that wrote about the First World War .He uses many techniques that can be deemed similar to Owen such as grotesque imagery, symbolism and vivid descriptive language to highlight to the reader the horror of war. Faulks and Owen also share common themes throughout their work such as love, war, loss of innocence, change, nature, religion and more. It is therefore evident that the First World War literature remains the most enduring literary legacy because of its impact on humanity.

( I hope you don’t mind that I linked a majority of my essay to Owen, I just found this more helpful as this is what the coursework task is. 🙂 )

Notes on Birdsong.

The opening of Birdsong is overflowing with characteristics of historical movements which are important throughout literature. The novel features both Romantic and Gothic elements.

Romantic: 

Throughout the opening chapter of ‘Birdsong’ both nature and symbolism are evident through the description of Amiens. The novel begins with the description of the rural village of the ‘Boulevard Du Cange’ which is situated in the city of Amiens, France. The language used to describe the place is pastoral and depicts a place of pre-industrialization: “On the damp grass were chestnut trees, lilac and willows, cultivated to give shade and quietness to their owners.”  He describes the Somme as “fertile”. This could be argued that Faulks has used this imagery to link Stephen and Isabelle’s relationship as Isabelle later falls pregnant. Faulks emphasises the natural beauty and tranquility of the Somme in the opening chapter which is later destroyed by the war.

Furthermore, the Romanticism is also shown when describing the river which runs through Amiens: “the river Somme broke up in to small canals that were the picturesque feature of Saint-Leu”. The river introduces a theme of tunnels which here create the Romantic fertile image which is later contrasted with a deadly image of tunnels which isn’t where life is created but where life is horrifically destroyed. This is also seen when Faulks makes a reverence to “unregarded passageways”.

The idea of new life is expressed at the start of the novel when Faulks writes “It was a spring evening with a late sun in the sky beyond the cathedral and the sounds of blackbirds from either side of the house.” Spring is a time of phenomenal renewal therefore it could be argued that this is expressing both Stephens new arrival or the strong contrast between the positive new start at the beginning of the novel opposed to the negativity which can be seen through the horrific characteristics of war.

Gothic:

Throughout the novel there are many Gothic characteristics. However, in the opening passage the Azaire’s house has “iron railings” which suggests not only a well established house from a high class background but also cold and harsh imprisonment which is ironic as Isabelle claims that she is not happy within her relationship and feels trapped due to Azaire’s abusive and manipulative ways. Their house is also described as old and mysterious which is important in Gothic literature: “the floors made distinctive sounds beneath the press of feet”, “the house was always a place of unseen footsteps” and “corridors that disclosed new corners”.

However, other parts throughout the novel where Gothic elements are expressed is through Stephen being trapped underground and trapped in his emotions because he did not know why Isabelle left and also because he loved her immensely. The winding dark and long passages which can be seen in the corridors of Azaire’s home, the trenches and the tunnels.

‘The White Devil’ – Act Three.

Summary:

Vittoria is trialed for both adultery and the murder of her husband. Marcello blames Flamineo for Vittoria’s situation and begs him to be honest. Whereas Francisco and Monticelso arrange for the foreign Ambassadors to attend they arrive later in the first scene.

Although there is not enough evidence to convict her of murder, she is nonetheless put in a prison by Cardinal Monticelso. Flamineo, decides to fake insanity and is therefore released pending payment of fines. He later, pretending to be mad expresses bitterness about the courts judgement. Lodovico and Giovanni arrive and announce Isabella’s death.

Finally, Lodovico learns that he has been pardoned by the Pope on his deathbed and he is delighted. However, Flamineo and Lodovico quarrel and fight.

Key parts of Act Three:

  • The Ambassador’s who are invited to witness the trial of Vittoria was a high ranking minister who was resident at a foreign court who represents his country and has the right to a personal interview with the chief magistrate of the country which they reside.
  • The English law courts at this period used the Law French instituted by William the Conqueror after the Norman Conquest.