Essay: 'Journeys End' by RC Sheriff,

Question: ‘Human beings can only be pushed so far before they begin to crack.’ Compare and contrast the ways in which your chosen writers present the horror of war and the psychology effects of war wrought on soldiers.

‘Journeys End’ is a play written by RC Sheriff, who was an officer during the First World War. Sheriff had front line experience; his makes the play connect with him as most of the play is based on his own real life experiences. This makes it more factual and real compared to ‘Regeneration’ ; a novel written by Pat Barker in the early 1990s (after the First and Second World War) so it was more of a second hand version of the war. Most of her inspiration for this novel was from her step- grandfather who served in the war, and had scars both inside and out but refused to talk about the war with her. This aroused her curious side and she promised herself that she would find out more. Both Regeneration and Journey’s End explore the horror of war and psychology effects of war wrought soldiers. They tell the different stories of war using flashbacks, hallucinations, stage directions, deaths, and both physical and mental states. Both writers focus on the mental effects of war and how damaging these can be on the emotional behaviour of the men.

‘Journey’s End’ is set on the front line, where most of the action happened in the First World War, whereas Regeneration is set in Craig Lockhart mental hospital in Scotland, far away from the war and the fighting but many of the patients are soldiers who have been sent in from the front line and are trying to recover from mental illnesses such as mental neurosis. The book gives us an insight into each patient’s lives and how mental illnesses can make any person feel lonely and isolated from the rest of the world (like the hospital is). The novel is concentrated on the life of Dr Rivers, a psychiatrist at the mental hospital. Dr Rivers was a real life doctor in the First World War and a lot of the novel is written with his real life story. In contrast Sheriff’s play is set in the middle of the war, just behind the frontline. As it is a play it has been written to have two settings; inside the trench and the communications between the soldiers and then on the side of the stage there are constant reminders that the war is literally just outside ‘through the stillness comes the low rumble of distant guns’ this brings dramatic effect to the audience reminding them continuously that just outside the trench there are men dying…

In Regeneration Rivers is what is known as the protagonist, the leading character in the novel , and everything revolves around him. A lot of the patients don’t actually meet but we get to know them through Rivers. Even at the end when most of the patients have said farewell to him they are still constantly thinking about him. From this point of view we see how he is seen through other characters’ eyes. To compare to this in Journey’s End Stanhope is a main character, however Sherriff uses the other characters to describe the story as well unlike Rivers who we can clearly see is the protagonist. Stanhope is known in the trenches as a hard man, like a father figure but with authority, but he also had a reputation for being an alcoholic. When Raleigh (a young naive soldier) is introduced to us we see a whole new side of Stanhope, a young sporty scholar who was looked up to by many young boys, including Raleigh. “He was skipper of rugger at Barford…. I was frightfully keen to get into Dennis’s Regiment.” This gives the audience conflicting emotions about Stanhope and at the end of the play it is left up to us to decide whether he was a hero or not.

‘Human beings can only be pushed so far before they begin to crack.’ This quote is explaining about how much a human can mentally and physically take, until their body does something to protect themselves (like have a mental breakdown or become mute) this is the bodies way of shutting down and trying to preotect itself. Barker reveals the idea that war exposes a lot of inner and personal fear that then comes to the surface. Delusion is seen as a form of escape as the majority of soldiers are haunted by their past. Rivers reassures his patients that ‘horror and fear’ are natural emotions and that they are ‘inevitable responses.’ When Rivers says this he is going against the dominating masculine culture, telling them to put their heart out on their sleeve and not worry about the consequences to battle inside. In Journey’s End Stanhope is a character that is fearful of himself, and of what he has become. He wants to forget the past ‘as long as a hero’s a hero’ he doesn’t believe that he is a hero any longer. He has repressed trauma ‘I couldn’t bear being fully conscious all the time’ as being himself is too much for him to handle. He keeps all of the emotions that he doesn’t want to deal with at the back of his mind where he can’t reach it. Many of the characters in Journey’s End including Stanhope and Osborne deal with their own psychological effects by trying to keep calm, and trying not to think about anything for too long, or to let emotions to take control. They are in so much pain that they feel like they can’t live with themselves and don’t know who they have become. On the other hand in Regeneration a method in the hospital is to get the patients to talk about their feelings in order to get better which is the complete opposite of Journey’s End. The difference here is that the characters in Regeneration have been through the war atmosphere and had all the repressed trauma and the self-hate, and now they are onto the next step; trying to fix themselves, Journey’s End is possibly the ‘before’ stage of Regeneration. First comes the war, the pain and the suffering, after that the soldiers then are trying to go back to their old life and to piece themselves together after they have been in the fighting zone.

Journey’s End illustrates contrast of absolutes, where the mood is either humorous or light hearted or serious and devastating, whereas Regeneration is about the gradual process of getting yourself back together and picking up the pieces, it has no comedy at all. It is a metaphor of the ‘Regeneration’ of emotional and physical lives. There are many effects of war on the individual, both physical, emotionally and mentally. In Journey’s End the toll of war is seen in Stanhope whose personality has changed drastically during the time he has been involved in the war. Raleigh brings in new light on the character of Stanhope when he tells the stories of what he remembers of Stanhope to be like “Dennis used to come and stay with us in the holidays… We were terrific pals.” Raleigh doesn’t realize how much the war has changed Stanhope because he seems surprised when he meets him despite the warning from Osborne “you musn’t expect to find him – quite – the same.” Raleigh is a very naive and innocent young school graduate at the beginning of the play, liking war to a game of rugger. We can see this especially after Osborne talks about a soldier being shot and he replies with “How topping!” This shows how inexperienced he is with war and we realise his childlike, trusting nature. Whereas near the end of the play after Osborne has died he is confused about this inner turmoil he is feeling. When he looks to Stanhope for guidance, he is ignored and the audience finally realise that Stanhope kind and helpful nature has completely changed due to the war.

In Regeneration we see that Rivers is conflicted. He believes in helping the soldiers from their disability and war neurosis however he knows that once the soldiers are better they have to go right back onto the front line in effect placing the soldiers right back into the world which they have just recovered from visiting. Rivers himself was a soldier in the war including his experience and throughout the novel he starts to open up and use his experience to help both himself and the other patients. Dr Rivers finds himself changing and transforming his attitude to war, through speaking with his patients and hearing their horrific tales.

Regeneration is based on facts and true life events which makes the story that much more thrilling. Rivers is seen as the narrator whereas Journey’s End is a play so the stage directions are what give us the narrative. The narrator is a character that is made to shadow the audience’s mind, to take them through their experiences and help the audience to understand. We are, in a way the narrator as we are in their minds. In Regeneration most of the novel is pure action, whereas in Journey’s End we hear a lot of informal talking about subjects which are irrelevant, for example after talking about sending some men out to fight and possibly to their deaths the Colonel asks Stanhope ‘Do you like Fish’? They then go on to have a discussion about good fish. In the war everyone back at home thought of soldiers as heroes, men who fought for their country and lived or died trying. In both the books they tell of war as it is, no hiding the facts. In the poem Suicide in the Trenches written by Siegfried Sassoon he tries to explain that ‘smug-faced crowds… cheer when soldier lads march by… hell where youth and laughter go.’ This is explaining his thoughts of the loss of innocence of the ‘simple soldier boy who grinned at life.’ How the people back at home have no idea of what goes on at war and just see the propaganda that the government want them to see.

Billy Prior is the character in which Pat Barker shows us the main effects of war on the individual. The novel is written to take the audience through after war effects as the novel is about officers who have been sent to a mental health hospital as they suffer from war neurosis. They use different treatments including hypnosis and group sessions. Billy prior feels of his experience through the hypnosis treatment, as he cannot speak and is paralysed because of events that happened to him in the war. Both books are told using the psychological effects of war to describe their differentiates stories. The method in Regeneration is to look back on the past to get back together and to relive the trauma, however in Journey’s End the characters are trying to find a way of forgetting.

One way in which both books show the way in which the soldiers deal with the horror of war is through having paternal and maternal figures. To become a man, you need to oppress your emotional needs and sacrifice your feelings, a price attached to the war. You lose many parts of yourself, and are no longer whole. So after you have left the trauma of war you need love and care to help you live with your experience. As part of the recovery process a soldier needs to recreate a mother or father figure within himself. In the war the elder and higher ranking soldiers seemed to take on the role of ‘father’ and be a paternal figure. A big example of this is when Osborne says ‘You’ll find the other officers call me uncle.’ He is the person they look up to and they trust him to look up to and to lead them well. Another example is when Raleigh says ‘It’s awfully decent of you to bother, Dennis’ and Stanhope comforts Raleigh by saying ‘It’s not your fault, Jimmy’ Raleigh is still very much an innocent young recruit in the war and over the time of the book he has only been involved in the war for a week and is still very inexperienced, he has not had time to learn about the brutality that is war. He dies believing that he has served his country and met his hero. Stanhope comforts him but in a way he is forgetting his own feelings by concentrating on others. It makes him feel better about himself.

In Regeneration Rivers tends to ‘adopt the role of father-figure to the men’ The patients need someone to lead them through to the end of the tunnel and to help them. He believes it is natural to want to repress trauma, however it is physically impossible for it to physically disappear from the human mind. In Dr Rivers’s methods he gets his patients to open up to him and express their inner emotions and teaches them to ‘abandon hopes of attempting to forget.’

To conclude I believe that Regeneration and Journey’s End offer different ways of portraying the horror of war and the psychology effects of war wrought on soldiers. Sheriff shows an accurate description of the general day to day life in the trenches, as the Daily Mirror said ‘a much better argument against war than sentimental propaganda plays’ and ‘the Methuen Study Guide.. asserts that… ‘Journey’s End is a message-carrying play with a definite purpose in mind: to make people ponder the stupidity and horrors of war’.’ Having made the audience fall in love with the characters especially Raleigh and Osborne he then conveys the real emotive horror of the front line, ending with the deaths of two loved characters. Sheriff was unable to show the horror of was as well as Barker as he was writing a play and so had to write it for stage and also he wrote it in a different era. Barker used vivid imagery and description to show the effect of war on the young soldiers who were young in body but old in mind (such as Burns.) As Ros Fraser suggests ‘the portrayal creates a web of connections which question our perceptions of stock, heroic war characters.. given glimpses into characters’ torment through Burns.’ Both books are trying to show what the war really was like, how it was not as it seems and we as the audience are forced to reconsider the impact of the war, and how many people died for no good cause.

Source: Essay UK - http://xbmm43.com/essays/english-literature/essay-journeys-end-by-rc-sheriff/


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