Horror of War in Literature

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Explore the ways in which Sherriff’s Journey’s End present the horrors of war. Compare and contrast your finding with Sebastian Faulks’ treatment of the same theme in Birdsong, ensuring that your response is informed by interpretations of other readers. Both Sherriff and Faulks depict the horrors of war through the various dramatic and linguistic techniques used. Some of these horrors can be perceived as the separation from loved ones, the responsibilities and expectations men faced in the trenches and the deaths of innocent men despite class, status and beliefs.

Faulks however, portrays the horrors of war in a different way, focusing on the graphic imagery, experiences of the characters and landscapes to convey the horrors. Early on in the first Act of Journey’s End, the horrors of war are revealed to the audience through the stage directions, “yellow candle-flames light the other corner”. The meaning could be ambiguous as it holds both a literal and metaphorical connotations; Sherriff symbolises how the unnatural conditions the characters exist in-the trench lit by artificial light-represents how the world men survived in, is one that is unnatural and one mankind should not be compelled to live in.

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Towards the end of the play, Sherriff uses vivid depictions in the stage directions to recreate, in a detailed way, the setting in which the soldiers are in. This makes the audience feel like they are there as the “Flying fragments of shell whistle and hiss and moan overhead”. The alliteration and personification in the first two words create a harsh and graphic representation of the horrors as the sibilance builds up a vivid nightmarish atmosphere. This represents to the audience a realistic depiction of the true horrors.

Similarly, Faulks uses linguistics to create a vivid portrayal of the landscape, deaths and injury; “The trench you started from is just a mass of bodies. ” This suggests that the degree of lost individuality and lives was astronomic, as Faulks not only shows the dehumanisation of the war but also how the masses of bodies left uncared for was normality during the war. The vivid imagery is needed to recreate what happened, in order to make it possible for the reader to picture in their mind the horrors of the described scene.

Faulks’ novel enables the reader to have a visual insight and can reveal the direful truth of how soldiers are left lying in foreign land alongside men’s corpses, with their identity unrecognisable. Birdsong is a fiction novel which uses imagery to express the graphic horrors of war in comparison to Journey’s End-restricted in terms of duration-uses auditory imagery to enable the horrors of war to be accentuated. On top of this, Journey’s End has a lack of characters that enables the audiences to relate to them portraying the horrors of war to the audience as they see what the characters experiences.

Throughout the play, Sherriff not only looks at how British soldiers were affected by the war but also the humanity that German soldiers had. This enlightens the audience about how men on both sides are compassionate despite their conditions; “the German officer fired some lights for them to see by”… “Next day we blew each other’s trenches to blazes. ” The striking difference between Osborne’s reminiscences implies the seemingly absurd nature of the warfare. It tests what men believed in, exposing to the audience how futile the war was as neither side wanted to be on unfamiliar land where killing is required of them to stay alive.

Both Sherriff and Faulks show how men’s fear of their surroundings can reduce a soldier to despair. Sherriff portrays this through Hibbert, and the terror he faces in the trenches, “I’ve tried damned hard; but I must go down”. Sherriff‘s dramatic techniques accentuate Hibbert’s fear as he acts “hysterically. ” Hibbert’s manner stresses to the audience the psychological effects that can occur as he “bursts into a high pitched laugh” and “breaks down and cries. It can be seen that the extremity of the horrors Hibbert faces were not just the physical injuries suffered but also the psychological effects that petrify and irrevocably alter men. On the other hand, Faulks shows the extent of the horror faced through landscape when “the hillside was seething with the movement of the wounded” and “it was like a resurrection in a cemetery twelve miles long. ” The size of the horror is reflected in the sound that the men produce, “It was a low, continuous moaning…it sounded…as if the earth itself was groaning. Faulks emphasises the horrors of war through the figure of speech such as the personification of the landscape as he implies the land has been causes extreme disturbance by the wounded men and the use of simile to reinforce it was not just the men altered but also the landscape. On top of this, it could be seen that Faulks’s choice of words holds religious connotation of the resurrection of the dead, portraying God’s dominance over life and death yet also reminding those who believe, that they are alive, which predictably leads to the breakdown of Weir who cries out, “Oh God oh God – what have we done”.

In the same way as Journey’s End, it can be seen by the reader how the extremity of the horrors seen, were not just physical but psychological too. It is apparent that Stanhope has a lot of pressures placed upon him as he is in charge of his company, has to seem ‘normal’ in front of Raleigh and his comrades and he has to be able to cope with the pressure of war. Sherriff portrays this through Stanhope as he is forced to grow up too soon; “Despite his stars of rank he is no more than a boy. The stage directions reveal that Stanhope was only just an adult when he joined up, resulting in him having to mature early on as power was delegated to him. This therefore meant that Stanhope had to look after the lives of men at the age of twenty one and the childlike qualities he once possessed not long ago have been stripped away. To deal with the pressures, he turns to alcohol- “Drinking like a fish as usual? ”-suggesting to the audience it is a coping mechanism in order to escape the world in which he was bound to.

This portrays how men cope with the innocence they once felt that is no longer present portrayed through Raleigh who knew Stanhope from before the war where he was a ‘skipper’ at rugby, showing how the alteration of life meant that men needed a way to survive with the pressures and horrors of the war and in Stanhope’s case, abusing alcohol. Sherriff and Faulks look at how the death of soldiers devastatingly affects the men through the key protagonists.

The death of Osborne very violently affects Stanhope: “To forget you fool-to forget! D’you understand? To forget! You think there’s no limit to what a man can bear? ” Stanhope has lost his closest friend and to try to forget, he turns to abusing alcohol in order to escape from the world of bereavement, damage and destruction he now faces. However Faulks shows how Stephen faces a range of emotions to cope with the death of Weir, from trying to cry, to wanting revenge as “Now he would kill with a light heart. This implies to the reader that Weir was the only person in whom Stephen could confide and that although, at times, Stephen would appear to have had no compassion for Weir, the reality is that Weir was the only person Stephen could get close to, which led him to want to kill for revenge. The juxtaposed words expose the reality of war, as the killing of the enemy was what made men feel the lives taken were just. This may well suggest how the views of society changed within a short space of time; the death of a soldier had become ordinary.

Both the play and novel suggest that men in the trenches have a close bond that has been built up, as they are united in the appalling conditions. The war took masses of lives and the psychological effects, had a huge impact upon the well-being on men, revealing the horrific realities of the war. Sherriff explores the patriotism of young men who have not had any experience of trench life, represented through Raleigh. Whilst still at school, Raleigh witnessed the return of his hero, Stanhope, who is a serving soldier and believed him to have “looked splendid”.

Raleigh arrives at the trenches with a sense of optimism, being “frightfully keen” to join the man he admires. Sherriff enables the audience to see that Raleigh is clearly unprepared and naive of life at the front, which makes the horrors of war come to life for the audience as Raleigh is extremely youthful and his death symbolising not only the majority of the younger generations, who were more than keen to enlist to fight for their country, yet knew little of what they would witness but also how regardless of background, death can happen to anyone.

It can be seen, therefore, that the audience and the reader of both texts would find it difficult to imagine the horrors of serving and living in a trench without the writer’s use of dramatic and linguistic techniques.

Both Sherriff and Faulks create a compelling image in both the play and the novel: Journey’s End explores the relationships that formed, the views upon war and the claustrophobic conditions men live in whereas Birdsong focuses on using graphic imagery to expose death, loss, injuries, and the alteration of men’s lives. Both Sherriff and Faulks convey to the audience and the reader a glimpse of the horrors faced by men during the war and how these affected and irrevocably altered their lives.

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Horror of War in Literature. (2018, Jun 06). Retrieved from


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