"Journey's End" by R C Sherriff

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A dramatic analysis of Act three, Scene one, showing how R. C Sherriff brings the raid to life and conveys the horror of war, despite the limitations of the stage. The author of the play R. C Sherriff, was an officer in the First World War. The play is based upon his real life experiences. He wrote several other plays, but it is for “Journey’s End” that he is best remembered. The play shows the horrific conditions in the trenches.

It also shows the class divide between the officers and the men. The scene is set in a dugout in the British trenches before St. Quentin.

It is the 20th March 1918. Seven months before the end of the First World War. The dugout is bare and gloomy with make shift seats, a bed and a large table. The walls are of bare earth with a few pictures of girls pinned to them. There are candles burning and faint sound of the war.

The front line is only fifty yards away. Act three, scene one, begins with Stanhope, the commanding officer, pacing up and down. It is dusk and a glow from the setting sun focuses the audience’s attention solely on him. His mood is agitated and anxious.

Two officers, Osbourne and Raleigh and ten other men are to go over the top of the trench to find out what is happening on the German’s front line. They hope to cross seventy yards of no-mans land, and go through the German’s wire fences.

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Their object is to see where the German troops are and to capture a couple of young Germans if possible. This is a very dangerous thing to do and Stanhope is worried. He would have prepared it to take place earlier in the afternoon during daylight. Stanhope glances anxiously at his watch, nineteen minutes to go. He shouts for Mason who is his servant and therefore has a separate dugout.

He asks for coffee then continues to pace restlessly to and fro. The colonel of the regiment enters the scene by the steps into the dugout, and asks if everything is ready. The commanding officer tries to convey to the colonel that he thinks is a mistake. The atmosphere is tense. The colonel is accused of not doing enough to avoid the raid and have the plans altered. The colonel then becomes assertive. He tries to justify the raid by saying the Germans did the same to the British a few days before. Stanhope persists by saying, “Why seven? ” He implies sarcastically that any other time might have interrupted the Colonel’s dinner.

The effect is that the Colonel’s priorities are wrong. He is putting his routine of meals and writing reports before the lives of men. Stanhope’s contempt of the Colonel and the situation are portrayed. They continue to argue. Stanhope is concerned that the British mortars will not blow a hole in the German wire fence. They plan to drop smoke bombs to cover the men, Stanhope says they will not have to go over the top until the smoke is thick enough. He knows that there are a dozen machine guns trained on their dugout, just waiting. The Colonel and Stanhope continue their dialogue.

The Colonel is concerned about any prisoners they take being ‘knocked out’ before they get them back to the British lines. He is using the words ‘knocked out’ as a euphemism for death. As though it would be bad look to actually mention death. The Colonel then tries to persuade Stanhope that it will be all right. “After all, its only sixty yards. ” He says, “Osbourne’s a cool, level headed chap, and Raleigh’s the very man to dash in. ” They discuss the men who are to go with the two officers. Stanhope says, “The best. All youngsters, strong keen chaps. ” This means that they are just very young boys.

Red rags have been tied to the wire to show the men the gap in the fence. The Colonel asks if these have upset the men. Stanhope says it is hard to say, but that he is upset that the men are making a joke of it. It is obvious that these red rags make them think of blood. At this point Osbourne and Raleigh come down the steps to the dugout. The Colonel says, “Well Osbourne, everything ready? ” Osbourne says yes and that the men will stand by at three minutes to.

The Colonel asks if they will go when the smoke thickens. Osbourne is very matter of fact, “That’s right sir. ” Stanhope shouts, “Mason! at the dugout, and the coffee is brought in. he is concerned about the men and asks Osbourne if they have been given their rum. The Colonel asks, “Are they cheerful? ” Stanhope tells the Colonel that he thinks the men would appreciate a word of encouragement from him. The Colonel seems reluctant to speak to them, but Stanhope persuades him that it is the right thing to do. Grudgingly the Colonel prepares to leave. This is an awkward moment in the play. He pauses then clears his throats before taking Osbourne’s then Raleigh’s hand to wish them luck. They both realise that they are probably about to die, but nothing is said.

The Colonel emphasises the importance of what they are doing and promises them a medal if they succeed. Stanhope and the Colonel then prepare to leave but the Colonel says over his shoulder that they must empty their pockets of any papers. Raleigh exclaims, “Oh, no” and goes into his dugout to empty his pockets. This shows him as being young and nai?? ve. Osbourne calls Stanhope back. They have had a close relationship. Both coming from wealthy public school backgrounds. He gives Stanhope a letter, his watch and his ring, awkwardly asking him to give them to his wife if anything should happen to him.

This shows that he is very uncertain that he will return. Stanhope tries to reassure him but does not sound very convincing. The impression is they will not see each other again. As Stanhope leaves the dugout he lingers and takes one last look at Osbourne. He then reluctantly leaves the scene. Raleigh returns and he and Osbourne are alone in the dugout. Osbourne smokes his pipe and Raleigh has a cigarette. They decide against having some rum in case it makes them, “A bit muzzy. ” And they stir their coffees in silence. The mood is very serious. They look each other in the eye and Osbourne asks Raleigh how he feels.

They are edgy and tense, just wanting the time to pass so that they can get going. They decide to have one last look at the map and go through their final plans. Suddenly Raleigh loses his courage. He says, “Oh Lord, I can’t. ” Osbourne states, “You must! ” Raleigh reverts to his public school outlook. He shows his youth and inexperience, “How topping if we both get the M. C.! ” The conversation continues in a meaningless way. Osbourne trying to keep the conversation away from the raid, but Raleigh wants to talk about it. He is starting to think about how badly the Boche will shell them as they cross no-mans land.

Osbourne starts to quote poetry to take Raleigh’s mind off things. Osbourne shows how much more mature he is than Raleigh in this scene. They touch on thoughts of home, places they both know. They make a tentative plans to visit each other after the war, each describing places they know and love. The time passes slowly. Osbourne looks at his watch. Two minutes to go. Raleigh notices Osbourne’s ring on the table. The lighting at this point should pick out Raleigh as he realises that Osbourne does not really expect to return. There is an uncomfortable silence. Osbourne then tries to prepare himself.

They hang a lanyard round their necks to hold their revolvers. The feel of the weapon gives them a sense of security. They put on their helmets. Osbourne looks back at his still lighted pipe with reluctance. A comfortable picture of middle class life is given before they turn to leave. One last look into each others eyes and an assurance that they are glad to have each other and they leave the scene. This scene relies heavily on pathos to generate pity and sympathy in the audience. It draws attention to Raleigh’s youth and inexperience and to the sort of life the men hope and dream of returning to.

The next part of this scene is the actual raid. Solely stage directions rather than it being acted out on stage describe it. The stage is empty of people, only props are left standing. The silence is held as long as possible before the audience starts to fidget. This builds up the tension of the play for the audience. R. C Sherriff brings the raid to life by using sound effects, this means that the audience will have to use a lot of their imagination.

There is a heavy use of onomatopoeia and personification. An example of personification is, “A vicious rattle of machine guns. The word vicious is used to bring across the aspect of fear to the audience. Examples of onomatopoeia that are used throughout these directions are, “Crush”, “crash”, “whine”, “shriek” and “rattle”. These are used to explain the actions of bombs going off. As the directions develop, a crescendo is formed until it reaches its climax. This is when, “…. the whine of one shell rises above the others to a shriek and a crash. A dark funnel earth leaps beyond the parapet of the trench…. ” After this, the directions create a diminuendo with words such as, “A black cloud of smoke rises slowly out of sight.

” And, Gradually, the noise dies away-…. ” Prove this. Stanhope’s voice is heard in an urgent tone. He asks the colonel to come down quickly. The colonel then asks how many, and Stanhope replies only one. This is a use of ambiguity on the audience. The audiences are thinking only one what? One dead? One alive? The stage directions describe Stanhope as being pale and haggard as he comes down the steps. I feel that a better verb could be used in the place of ‘comes’. A verb such as ‘staggers’ or, ‘stumbles’ would fit the role more suitably. Next, sees the kidnap of the young German boy. A great emphasis on his youth is portrayed.

He is always referred to as, “Sonny” or, “boy”. “Suddenly the boy falls on his knees and sobs out some words in broken English. ” The word ‘sobs’ sounds just as a child would do when he/she was scared. With a huge fist, Sergeant Major takes the boy by the collar and draws him to his feet. An emphasis on the boy’s youth is portrayed again when the Sergeant Major picks him up with a huge fist. The use of his huge fist makes the boy appear very small and frightened. The colonel and the German boy then have a conversation. Some humour is brought across with the colonel’s pathetic German speaking voice, by his misunderstanding of words.

Sergeant Major searches the boy when he refuses to answer what town he came from. He finds a pocket book. There are letters in the case, possibly received from his mother. He clutches at it impulsively. If these letters are from his mother, he probably gets hope and courage from them and possibly a sense of security. Sergeant Major also finds a few juvenile articles in his pockets, “Bit o’ string, sir;” you can almost imagine a conker on the end of the string, “Little box o’ fruit drops; pocket-knife, sir; bit o’ cedar pencil,” there is a touch of pathos here.

A full cedar pencil is excusable, but only a bit of, seems very juvenile. …. And a stick o’ chocolate, sir. ” I think that Sergeant Major feels sorry for the German boy. He turns to him with a smile and calls him sonny, which puts him at ease. The German boy bows stiffly to the colonel, showing respect. Even though he is the enemy, he recognised the colonel as a commanding officer. The colonel is deeply absorbed in the German’s pay book. He rises quickly. He will be going back to headquarters with the ‘splendid’ news hoping for promotion. He is pleased with the success of the mission and not bothered about the men who went through it.

At this point, the audience awaits the return of Osbourne and Raleigh. Stanhope comes slowly down the steps, in disbelief and shock. The colonel excitedly shouts, “Splendid Stanhope, we’ve got all we wanted- 20th Wurtemburgers!…. I must go right away and phone the brigadier. He’ll be very pleased about it, it’s a feather in our cap Stanhope. ” This shows the colonels ignorance. He doesn’t even ask about the men, all he’s interested in is scoring brownie points with the Brigadier. Stanhope replies, “How awfully nice- if the Brigadier’s pleased. ” In a sarcastic tone. Stanhope is astonished that the colonel could be so insensitive.

The colonel then realises what he has said and feels very uncomfortable, “Oh- er- what about the raiding party- are they safely back? ” Stanhope replies, “Did you expect them to be all safely back, sir? ” Stanhope makes the colonel feel bad. He answers the colonel’s question with another question. Stanhope then informs the colonel of Osbourne’s death. The colonel says, “I’m very sorry, poor Osbourne! ” Stanhope then replies, “Still, it’ll be awfully nice if the Brigadiers pleased. ” Stanhope and the colonel are uneasy with each other. Raleigh comes slowly down the steps, walking as if he were asleep.

The colonel turns to the boy with enthusiasm, “Well done, my boy. I’ll get you a military cross for this! Splendid! ” it is almost as if the colonel is trying to forget about Osbourne already. The youth factor of Raleigh is portrayed again in this part of the play. He is always referred to as ‘boy’. Raleigh went over the top a nai?? ve schoolboy and he came back a disillusioned man. Raleigh sits on the edge of Osbourne’s bed, just like he’s on automatic pilot. There is a silence in the trench outside. This could be a silence for no more raid, no more Osbourne. It is a respectful silence.

This silence also builds up the tension and suspense. There is a dominant sense of loss in the room. Stanhope sits staring at the table where Osbourne left his watch and ring. Stanhope and Raleigh’s eyes meet. Stanhope speaks, his voice expressionless and dead, “Must you sit on Osbourne’s bed? ” Stanhope has lost a good friend, the person he used to trust. His confidant. Raleigh, in his solitary position, rises unsteadily and murmurs, “Sorry. ” The scene finishes with the stage directions, “Heavy guns are booming miles away. ” This emphasises the fact that the war is happening wider than this. Everything still happens.

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"Journey's End" by R C Sherriff. (2017, Oct 20). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/paper-on-journeys-end-by-r-c-sherriff/

"Journey's End" by R C Sherriff
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