Analysis of Jay Winters Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning

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The existence of sorrow in every media such as books, magazines, movies, stage plays, has become history’s common and indefinable themes, through which, effectively manifested on the different relevant experiences of war. The work of Jay Winter’s, Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning, describes the bereavement of those who suffered and experienced the Great War. The concept of healing and uplifting the victims from the harsh memory of the war can still never be fully comprehended. According to Winter, critical questions should be addressed and by not asking such would lead to the evasion and to the impoverishment of the study of history… and this is the main responsibility of historians (Winters 116). He is actually pertaining to the Historians of the Great War to have as much as possible collaborative works so that history would have different facades and not only limited to the view of one historian. The book itself reflects Winters’ objective having different acknowledgements from various colleagues.

In preparation for this book, describing the war and the grief afterwards, he indulges to different national borders having equipped with missionary diplomacy and patience. His objective is to guide the reader through the memory of war and mourning on the vast culture of Europe. Consequently, his counter-examples, illustrations, and variations come from various sources of archives and published materials specifically relating to Britain, Germany, and France, though much of the context of the book describes the European experience. The comparative method he utilized has various contextual supports coming from the scrutiny of analogous evidences in several chosen national contexts. His unparallel creativity and pioneering approach provokes the reader to test-out the multitude speculations and hypotheses in other context. The technique of quoting is utilized all throughout the book (see figure).

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Figure 1. The Book, Sites of Memory Sites of Mourning

Winter’s relevant tours in Australia and Western Europe provided an insurmountable feeling of consolation for most of the bereaved ones. There has been no clear separation of the functional aspects of the memoirs of the survivors and on the point of view of literary artistic: all are molded to specifically describe the post war scenario wherein “survivors are perched on a mountain of dead bodies” (Winters 17).

Part 1 of the book, which is the “Catastrophe and Consolation”, selects more than a few strategies of mental alteration to personal failure, which consequently helped to classify the after- war popular culture. The successive chapters expound the theme of spiritualism, “fictive kinship”, resurrection, and memories of war (war memorials). All of these themes drew mostly on the rituals and images, and prewar figures in relation to be able to mobilize the “tradition” in the service of eventual healing. An expressive account of Abel Gance’s film work J’Accuse, 1918–19 versions, introduces an excellent, analysis (French- Focused) on the relative significance of dead bodies or corpses to the psychological aspects of the survivors with its disconcerting image of the dead one’s returning despairingly towards their villages.

 The eventually triumphant campaign on the beaten French in the graveyards of the village, in addition the symbolic depiction of the anonymous dead through the indefinite Warrior, provided necessary consolation by means of retrieval of the dead bodies or the corpses. The eruption of spiritualism, brought about by the wartime and the post war era, becomes eminent and recourse to have communications with the “spirit” of lost relatives, or those of dead people. The third chapter illustrates Winter’s profound keenness towards the theme, which eventually give emphasis on the concept of fear rather than grief, resulting to a captivating but yet unrelated digressions. Such illustration can be seen on the discussion on the front regarding spiritualism, which clearly describes the concept of fear (Winter 64 – 69).

The succeeding chapters in Part I deal with the social implications and organization of grief rather than describing the private consolation of motifs. The second chapter, which is the “communities in mourning”, provides vague but redolent proof of considerable “communal help” amongst the bereaved victims, and of the adamant claim for a realistic aspect about the casualties which is often being fulfilled by the Red Cross investigators surmounting severe resistance from the military. Cultural worms exists in “whole cans” and are temporarily opened through informal observations that the message of death is being carried out by various people of all levels such as mayor, a clergyman, and or through telegrams spreading across nations from France, Australia, and Britain respectively. Winter explored several opportunities to get personal bureaucratic testimony regarding the matter, and eventually arrived that the story has already been repeated almost so many times (Winter 34).

The interesting discussion regarding the memorials of war can be treated as the focus of rhetoric, ceremonies, and rituals of bereavement upon which these ideas are greatly influenced by the research and philosophies of several scholars such as Ken Inglis from Australia, Bob Bushaway from England, George Moose from Germany, and Antoine Prost from France. In Prost’s writing of the “In the Wake of War”, Winter give emphasis on the primary purpose as well the relative importance of memorials. He stressed that the discussion of memorials should never entail some form of political agenda or manipulation to the survivors, but nonetheless helps those bereaved ones to recuperate from the loss obtained caused by the war. Though Winter could not deny the

fact that some memorials are used for political purposes, he rejects the notion of Foucaultian (memorials are used as a means for the preparation of the European States towards another war through deploying the concept of abstractions to serve as a pain killer. He has a strong vindication on the primary functions and not on the proceeding appropriations that commemoration is not a rigorous attempt to pretense the harsh realities brought by the war. In the lack of complete inventories of memorials in most of the countries, the iconographic method of a survey is unavoidably of necessity: for instance, the claim for the Celtic crosses is considered less prevalent on the Northern part of Ireland compared to the Irish nation (Winter 247, n. 58). The relative focus on this chapter exhibits two concerns: memorials of those ex-servicemen as well as those of the bereaved, and also remembering the war and its casualties. Nevertheless, the overlapping accounts of private grief and public commemoration eventually provide the stimuli for the readers to be more curious as well as to become better informed.

The Second Part (Part II) of the book, “Cultural Codes and Languages of Mourning”, depicts the common motifs and forms that can be seen on movies, poetry and fiction, and the graphic arts. Each Chapter of the second part illustrates the author’s creativity as he narrated and described the story. As compared to Part I, the amount of information is often loose and the relevant associations are weak. There is a link of connotation between the idea of bereavement and the “demonic” posters in the form of war campaign or propaganda (see Figure below).

Figure 2. A war propaganda poster

Furthermore, the chapters on an image that resembles an apocalyptic era are merely related to the premise of a physical resurrection as a source of solace. The apocalypse’s connotation ranges from the fall down of hope from salvation and redemption of the urban people, no to mention the fear of group warfare. These clearly created multiple emotions in which the idea of bereavement caused by the war has a relative contributing aspect (Fussel 124). Winter’s in depth analysis with regards to the apocalyptic thoughts or imagination can be considered as fascinating in its own right. Part II subsequently provides a yet powerful response to the idea that the war relatively releases a sense of “modernity” through a collective refutation of an established form of artistry. It serves as the central debate of the book that the memoirs of different people, whether a politician, artists, or a soldier, reflects the universality regarding the memories of Europe dating back to 1914.

Figure 3. The Great War

The book, Sites of Memory Sites of Mourning relatively surveys an immense territory that illustrates different close-ups of locations, without consequently providing an inclusive map to verify precisely the linkages and relationships between the chosen sites. In most cases, the notion of imaginative presentation, personal grievances, and cumulative consolation can be considered suggestive and seldom becomes conclusive. Typically persuasive and eloquent, the author is astoundingly curious on the premise of the complexities and permutations of a individual loss.

This signifies that grief can be considered as a universal and a homogeneous rejoinder to the death of someone special. The author also gives emphasis on the solid theme of consolation and sorrow necessary for identifying memorials shared by the public. War is considered grimy not only as accounted first hand by the survivors, but this also served as an emotional and moral

 “disease” obtained by the survivors. At some point in time, the author’s analysis of commemoration and grief seems to be generous and high- minded for its theme. But despite of this, his remarkable accounts and unparallel respect for the testimony of the people who survived the war, and those of the dead clearly outweighed all flaws. The book in general can be considered a humane, exciting, and an innovative story in the history of the Great War that brought Sites of Memory, and Sites of Mourning.

Works Cited

Winter, James. Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning. Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Fussel, Paul. The Great War and Modern Mamory. Cambridge University Press, 1975.

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Analysis of Jay Winters Sites of Memory, Sites of Mourning. (2016, Jun 18). Retrieved from

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