The Presentation Of The Experience Of War English Literature Essay
Prior to the beginning of the Great War, the decision to enter a conflict with opposing nations was taken by the politicians of the time, those who didn’t much care for the young soldiers who were forcibly removed from their family to die for their country, voluntarily or not, a decision that was made out of little experience of the nature of a newly emerging era of battle. Moreover the children left behind, the innocents; totally unaware of the brutality happening around them, represented by the children in ‘The Last Night’. In ‘Disabled’ by Wilfred Owen, the theme of a lack of experience for the protagonist, and the irresponsibility of authority figures in both texts, reflects that of the politicians who had started this war.
In the past, the wounded soldier in ‘Disabled’ had once been youthful, eager, and artists "silly for his face", reflecting his frivolous youth and the silly ideas of which the once young man had had for joining the war. The line below "For it was younger than his youth", juxtaposes his youth before. These reasons, made out of little experience and knowledge, "Germans he scarcely thought of; all their guilt" had led him to his fate. In the current state of the soldier, "shivering in his ghastly suit of grey", has lost his youth, despite it being only a year after he had joined the war. His youth s represented by an implied metaphor for school, from the reasons for joining the army "of jewelled hilts for daggers in plaid socks", much like the suits of the Sixth Form, to "crowds cheer goal". His past teases and haunts him; he hears the children playing and feels jealousy for them, as they are mothered and loved, he is just dealt with by "they", the faceless women. And like a petulant child he waits and moans to them "Why don’t they come and put him to bed? Why don’t they come? This compares to the situation of the child in ‘The Last Night’, as André lies like a barn animal in the "filthy straw", contrasting the "soft bloom of his cheek...in the dung". All of their individuality has been taken away from them, juxtaposed by "women wailing and calling out their names", similar to the wounded soldier who is ignored as "women’s eyes passed from him to the strong men that were whole". André along with the other children are also not mothered or loved, and the protagonists mistreatment is shown when the soldier is treated "like some queer disease", much like the children are in ‘The Last Night’.
In experiencing the pain and suffering of war, the wounded soldier in ‘Disabled’ represents the revulsion of war, summed up in a brutal title that explains him in one. Wilfred Owen, himself a sufferer of shell- shock in the Great War, writes as if blaming the soldier for his injuries when "he threw away his knees", and in some ways it is. ‘Disabled’ is structured in such a way that Wilfred Owen relays the message of what the soldier used to be like, compared to what he is like now. In his youth the soldier had gained many cuts and grazes and in fact "liked a blood-smear down his leg", showing a sign of honour. But in contrast to that now he has felt the pain of war and shows the scars of an old, experienced war veteran, despite it being only a year since he joined as a recruit. Yet in ‘The Last Night’ the children know little of this pain and suffering. For the most part their innocence and perplexity bypass them from any emotional or psychological torment, only broken by the sounds of sobbing, then silence, then screams, portraying again the extended metaphor of people being presented and treated like barn animals.
Throughout the two texts, the way in which time is portrayed and compared to the protagonists shows the situation they are in. For the wounded soldier, time has effectively stood still as he is "waiting for dark", reflecting on the care and love he has left behind. The text is structured in a way to compare the soldier’s present state to what he was like before the war when his experiences were innocent and of a juvenile mind, "About this time Town used to swing so gay". As we start off in the present, periodically reflecting on the past, we finish off in the present as well. This is in contrast to the chronological structure of ‘The Last Night’, ironically named as the characters do not know this, which is moving towards an inevitable conclusion. Starting before the departure of the victims, we follow them towards their departure, all the time knowing what the end will bring; and are constantly reminded of each stage by references to time.
The roles of figures of authority as irresponsible and contrary to the thoughts of general society play key roles in leading the protagonists to their inevitable demise. In ‘Disabled’, the then young teenager came across the soldiers in the recruiting office who "Smiling they wrote his lie" and accepted his "giddy jilts" for joining the army as the need for recruits was greater than the morals of them. Similarly in ‘The Last Night’, the role models of gendarmes and policemen, who people usually turn to for reassurance, "were sent to fetch" and destroy the very people who look up to them for help, the young, the sick and the wounded.
In conclusion, the experiences of the two main protagonists in both texts differ in the way of reflection and regret for the wounded soldier, and innocence and blamelessness for the protagonists in ‘The Last Night’. For the soldier, time stands still as he is compared from now, older and wiser, to his previous inexperienced state of fun and glory. But for André and the other victims, time moves inevitably towards a horrible conclusion and their innocence does not leave them. In my opinion, the poem that has moved me the most is ‘The Last Night’ an extract from ‘Charlotte Grey’. I found that this piece of prose, compared to the poem of ‘Disabled’, showed the darker and more brutal side of war, not just the violence on the battle field, but the torture of innocent civilians showed in this text. From history we also know that World War two was the most devastating out of both World Wars, and this text being set in World War two, contrasting ‘Disabled’ set in World War one, reminds me of the monstrosities that were carried out. Even though Wilfred Owen did partake himself in war, Sebastian Faulks shows periodically the events of innocents against evil in first person, uniting the reader with the victims, as opposed to the third person pitiless description of the wounded soldier, his own worst enemy.