Both R.C Sheriff and Pat Barker use their characterisations as means of conveying the effects of the traumas of war on the soldiers in Journey’s End and Regeneration. These two texts not only explore the stress and emotional problems the men endured in response to the horrors of war, but also the ways in which they coped with or tried to escape them. Journey’s End and Regeneration approach these concepts in sometimes similar ways which can be directly linked, yet at other times in contrasting ways.
While Journey’s End illustrates the effects of war on the men on the front line in the trenches, Regeneration focuses on the suffering of the aftermath of war of the soldiers their time at Craiglockhart Hospital.
In Journey’s End it is apparent that Stanhope is affected by his experiences of war and turns to alcohol in attempt to cope with his suffering. Other comrades are aware that his habit has escalated – Hardy comments that he “never did see a youngster put away the whiskey he does” – and they realise how his behaviour contradicts his old principles.
Sheriff demonstrates Stanhope’s preceding ascetic lifestyle through Raleigh’s admiration, “once at school he caught some chaps in study with a bottle of whiskey…The roof nearly blew off”. This distinct contrast in character, displays the way in which war could change the soldiers’ behaviour dramatically. Stanhope exhibits paranoia through his desire to read Raleigh’s letters, emphasising his need to “censor all letters” and urges Osborne to “cross out what (Stanhope) says about (him)”.
Through his demands, Sheriff portrays Stanhope as being ashamed of the person war has made him. Barker’s portrayal of Anderson in Regeneration can be compared to Stanhope, as he too leaves the war a changed character as a direct result of his experiences. His psychosomatic struggle to face his fear of blood is demonstrated through his constant nightmares, haunting him with images of horrifying injuries of his patients. It is evident from the recurring images of blood – “it pumped out of him” – that Anderson becomes incapacitated by the fear of blood, and thus, incapable providing for his family.
Sheriff uses Trotter to illustrate an alternative way in which the soldiers coped with the strains of war. In order to “make the time go alright”, Trotter “blacks (circles) in” to mark off each hour. Not only does this demonstrate the soldiers’ desperation for the war to end but also indicates the absence of the concept of time in the trenches. These black circles evoke images of bullet holes, showing that the concept of war is always on the soldiers’ minds and they struggle to escape such thoughts. Trotter is also used to create a sense of bathos throughout the play, through his constant longing for food. He recognises the “lovely smell of bacon!” and converses with Mason about food. It becomes evident that Trotter eats for comfort, in a similar way that Stanhope drinks. His comment that “war’s bad enough with pepper, but without pepper…it’s bloody awful”, creates light-hearted relief against the reality of war and death. This abrupt change in ordinary style provides a contrast in the play, giving the audience a sense of normality, which is unmistakably a way in which the soldiers attempt to cope with their everyday struggles in the trenches.
In addition to this, the soldiers in Journey’s End use trivial games, such as earwig racing, not only to pass the time, but also as an attempt to shield themselves from the psychological effects of the war. The men display enthusiasm in playing such child-like games: “if you want to get the best pace out of an earwig, dip it in whiskey – makes ’em go like hell!”, suggesting that they are suffering from a loss of youth due to entering the war at such a young age, causing them to revert back to their childhood ways. Similarly, this concept emerges in Regeneration. When Burns invites Rivers to his home, he looks “like a child trying to remember what it was that grown-ups said to newly arrived guests.” Here Barker demonstrates how young men could often remain innocent and naï¿½ve through the carnage of war. Furthermore, Barker highlights the fact that Burns has been aged by the war and looks “like a scarecrow”. This depiction evokes images of a scrawny, hunchbacked man with weathered skin and a vacant and expressionless face. “The Sam Browne belt, bunching the loose fabric round his waist… tied him together” could be interpreted as a metaphor – the belt being the one thing that is holding himself together emotionally. As a result of being pressurised to mature so hastily in becoming a captain, Burns is shown to be suffering from a loss of youth, both physically and mentally.
A prominent distinction displayed between the two texts is the degree of realism established through language and the characters’ differing attitudes of war. The characters in Journey’s End are constantly attempting to see war in a positive light and adopt an optimistic mind-set throughout their time in the trenches. Romantic imagery is a common method used in attempt to cope with the psychological scaring evoked by their traumatic experiences. Stanhope and Osborne describe the “sunrise” using positive adjectives such as “gorgeous” and “splendid”, provoking images of a romantic setting where battles take place. Consequently, it can be argued that this description provides an unrealistic portrayal of war. Moreover, although Osborne’s comparison between sport and battle may seem true when he refers to no-man’s land as “the breadth of a rugger field”, his association between them may also be observed as a romantic perception, as it moves away from the war. Thus, Sherriff exemplifies, through the soldiers’ idealistic perceptions of war as a game, how they coped emotionally by underestimating aspects concerning war. In Regeneration, Barker perhaps provides a truer perspective of war through her use of realistic and often graphic language, a prime example being that Burns “had time to realise that what filled his nose and mouth was decomposing human flesh”.
Through this direct and pragmatic approach, Barker explores the different effects experienced by the soldiers through various characters: Burns’ traumatic incident on the front line causes him to relive the horrors of his dreams and “from every nightmare he awoke vomiting.” Sassoon suffers form similar effects, as his hallucinations are discussed directly in the novel, “the pavement was covered in corpses.” Barker’s honest and direct approach provides the reader with an accurate insight into the psychological distress experienced by the soldiers. However, the concept of soldiers using romance and escapism seen in Journey’s End, in an attempt to evade the emotional effects, can also be found in Regeneration, through the characters Owen and Prior. Owen’s poetry initially provides him with escapism from the war, as he claims that he has “always thought of p-poetry as the opposite of all that. The ugliness”. He realises that poetry is “something to t-take refuge in”. Prior feels “sexy” while walking into no-man’s land, conveying how soldiers often used sexuality to detach themselves from the misery of war; here, Barker demonstrates that men often coped with the ordeal of war by focussing on sex.
Both authors demonstrate how soldiers can become psychosomatic in response to war. In Journey’s End, Sherrif uses Hibbert to offer direct insight in to the psychological damage inflicted on the men. Hibbert claims he “can’t stick it any longer” due to suffering from “neuralgia”. Despite Stanhope’s disregard to this and his view of him being a “worm” and a “shirker”, Hibbert maintains that he wants to “go sick”. When confronted by Stanhope, Hibbert is shown with his “eyes tightly screwed up” as he “stands quivering”, evidently providing an image of someone who’s mental state is seriously effected by the war. A similar notion is conveyed by Barker through Willard, who claims that he is paralysed despite Doctors telling him “There was no injury to the spine”. Rivers concludes that “paralysis occurs because a man wants to save his life” from taking part in “some hopeless battle”. Similarly to Hibbert, Willard is reluctant “to concede anything that might suggest his illness was not purely physical”. It is evident that he comes to realise that “I can’t walk because I don’t want to go back”.
It can be concluded that, although both texts demonstrate the effects of war, the authors adopt similar and dissimilar methods of illustrating how the horrors of war can scar men psychologically and physically. The results of war on the men in both texts can often be directly linked, despite Sherriff and Barker’s alternate styles of approach.