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Burns

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Introduction

Space, setting, the interaction between landscape and mindscape and the curious similarities between outdoors places in Scotland and the landscape of the Flanders correspond to the writer's intention of similarity: the characters are so obsessed by the war that they see it in Scotland. This obsession ultimately transforms their vision of time.

I. The present is the past

Indeed, the characters have no present. It applies to all traumatized soldiers:

  • conscious: remembering.
  • unconscious: hallucination

For instance, Sassoon had hallucinations (p.12): "the pavement was covered in corpses". Then he says he had no more: the reader can doubt it:

  • p.5: "he saw lines of men".
  • p.142: "with a crack like rifle fire".

The same happens to Burns: (p.37): "a branch rattled like machine gun fire".
And to Prior:

  • p.214: "the darkness, the nervousness, the repeated and unnecessary swallowing..."
  • p.215: "at this distance, her eyes merged into a single eye".He remembers the eye he held in the trenches.Love scene turned into a horror scene.

II. No future

If the past keeps coming back then there is no future.

  • p.118: Rivers's analysis of Sassoon: "inability to envisage any kind of future".
  • p.198: "it means you're obsessed [...] you never talk about the future anymore".

III. A subjective vision of time

Read passage p.83-84 : conversation between Owens and Sassoon about the war.

A. Personal time

Interesting passage: 2 people in a hospital talking about their past experience. You would expect present tense to refer to the moment of enunciation and past tenses to refer to the war but here, present tenses are used to refer to the past:

  • "sometimes when you're alone".
  • "and that makes it something you almost can't challenge".
  • "what you see every night".

When the present is used, "you" is used too. Both tense and pronoun have the effect of generalizing their experience so that their personal experience of the war is turned into a universal experience. What happened to them becomes exemplary.

B. Historical time

Generalization has the effect of blurring WW1 as an historical event and of presenting it as an a-historical event.

Owen:

  • "you get sense of something ancient".Owen takes the war out of the contemporary period.
  • "men from Marlborough's army".He compares WW1 to very distant events in the past.
  • "wars distilled themselves into that war".Owen shows the similarities of all wars. World War One is the model, the paradigm of all wars.

Sassoon refers to the future. The result is the same: war loses its temporal and historical quality.

  • "I seemed to be seeing it from the future".If he is in the future, then war represents the past.

War loses its historical quality. The common point is that war becomes a sort of symbolic representation of Time. Time is movement but for them, time is eternal death.

Study of a passage p.37-38: "he got off at the next stop [...] whine of shells".

This passage is not a dialogue. The narrator is telling us about Burns. Presence of realistic elements: stress on concrete details ("a tuft of grey wool"). Use of chronological order + realistic framework. Everything is seen through Burns's subjectivity: he is the central focalizer and we move from an objective description of landscape to a subjective mindscape.

I - Presence of subjectivity

A - Focalization

Burns is the focalizer (internal focalization): "looking up and down". Burns does not only look, he feels trough his skin: "raindrops", "burning round the knees".

He also hears the pigeon.

B - Narration

Passage characterized with 3rd person narration. From time to time, the voice of the character emerges:

  • "it was so long since he'd been anywhere alone".
  • "up, up".

Burns is talking. The main effect is to reduce the distance between the reader and the character.

II - The impossible escape

Burns has left the hospital in an impulse. He does not know where he wants to go. His mental state is extremely fragile and even the traffic is too much for him. He favours a solitary place: "a hill". Desire for escape:

  • out of hospital.
  • away from human beings.

The hill: a savage and desolate place. The stress is on the upward movement:

  • "up, up"
  • repetition of "hill"
  • "climbing"
  • "crest"

When there is an insistence on something in the text, it may have a symbolic meaning.

  • upward movement: usually trying to find a better world.
  • quite consistent with his desire to get away from human beings.
  • it is unconscious.

The problem is that he goes up but he is stopped: "way barred by a force". His progression is hindered and he becomes a prisoner of Nature. Intention to move on: "he pressed two strands of wire apart" but failure: "catching his sleeve". Then panic: "breaking into a sweat". Burns tries to protect himself: "steeple of his cupped hands".

There are 2 symbolic meanings:

  • protecting his breath,
  • steeple: symbol of the church.
    => he ought to take shelter.

III - An aggressive nature

3 elements out of 4 are present in the text:

  • Air: wind
  • Earth: mud
  • Water: rain

The 4 elements are necessary to life but here rain aggresses Burns and blinds him. No freedom. Air: high wind and maline intention (evil wind). "Snatching away" : the wind is trying to kill him. The landscape of Scotland becomes the landscape of Flanders. Burns mistakes a place for another (confusion) and a moment for another: there is no present for Burns since what he lives is the war.

That is the way Pat Barker chose to express Burns' trauma.

Is Regeneration a novel with a plot ?

It is not as obvious as in a detective story.

I. Sassoon's transformation

Must be seen in the changes that occurred between the beginning and the end of the novel. At the beginning, Sassoon has just protested against fighting the war. At the end, something has changed: "no, I want to go back" (p.213). He has stopped his protest and has made the decision to go back to the front.He hesitates between protesting and going back. See p.118, paragraph 2: he is
changing his mind.

II. Rivers' transformation

At the beginning, Rivers has a very clear cut attitude: the soldiers must go back to the front when they are better. It is his "duty" (p.48). "Duty" is a very important word for Rivers. He is a military psychiatrist: a doctor but also an army officer.

p.164: "look [...] I do the job".
Not even a question of choice, he is an officer with responsibilities. Military pression too: there were no reasons of not continuing the war at the beginning.

But his belief will be undermined with his experience with his patients...
When Rivers met Sassoon they became very close, like a father and a son. Sassoon forces Rivers to ask questions with his attitude. Rivers also changes because of the patients' suffering. He is a very sensitive person and it makes him think about the war.

Rivers gradually uses stronger and stronger words to express his horror at the war. Being a psychiatrist, he is very intimate with his patients. He can have empathy (feel for them as if he were in their place).This change is obvious in the chapter where Rivers looks for Burns: p.180 : "nothing justifies this. Nothing nothing nothing.". The italics show emphasis, underlying the key moment: it is the turning point in Rivers's changing attitude to the war.

Toward the end, something also happened to him. Craighlockart is a traumatizing experience. That is why he pays a visit to another hospital so see how Yealland treats his patients. Rivers thinks about the meaning of his dream and becomes pessimistic: he is the same kind of person as Yealland (see p.238, paragraph 2). The methods are different but the results is the same: the soldiers are sent back to the front.

An hostile nature

Use of an adjective of color (yellow)

The sun and the light are described as yellow, which is a warm color not normally applied to natural light.

  • p.175, l.2: "fading to yellow".Yellow not presented as a bright color, paradox.
  • p.128: "yellowing of the light", "sulfurous".Attribute of Lucifer, negative connotation.
  • p.199: "like an artificial sunset".The natural light of the sun has gone.Yellow is linked to the war.

Yellow is associated with light, with Sarah's skin (because of the ammo factory). It has a negative connotation. This is a subversion of nature. The sun is expected to give light. Here it is the ammo factory that gives light.
Light: symbol of life.
War: related to death.
=> subversion of the normal use of life and light.

Darkness

Many scenes with a dark setting.

p.235: Rivers going at night: "gleam" is compared with "metal", which evokes the weapons. War is everywhere. Importance of shadows :

  • p.18: "shadows of the beech trees had begun to creep across".Creep: snake, evil: negative connotation.
  • p.86: "Prior [...] sitting on the shadow corner [...] in some sleazy district [...] he didn't know where he was". Disorientation.
  • p.199: inside the ammo factory: "room disappeared into shadow".
    Death & hell.

Insistence on cold.. Cold used as a metaphor: the sound of an owl is described as cold (p.153).

An aggressive environment

  • Scotland: stormy weather in the book.
  • Terrible wind blowing:
    • p.37: "tensing himself against the wind"
    • Prior and Sarah at the sea-side (p.128)
    • When Owen and Sassoon discuss poetry (p.142)
    • When Rivers visits Burns at his place (chapt.15)
    • p185: "another stormy day".

Such an accumulation of storm is not natural. Symbolic meaning:

  • nature becomes really threatening,
  • nature powerful vs. human beings powerless.

p.176: "faced with this sea, the land seemed fragile". There is no protection. Nature is so threatening that characters feel they are the prisoners
of the setting and space.

p.128: "they seemed to be trapped, fixed in some element thicker than air" : prisoners.
p.129: "he would have fallen if he hadn't grabbed a chump of marram grass" : another aggression of nature, deliberate choice from Pat Barker.

Nature as a metaphor of death

A few metaphors insist on the fact that Nature - the outside world is sick.

  • p.127: "a ganglion of rails"Outside world + sickness/illness
  • p.169: "the mist clung to them [pebbles] like sweat".Like a fever.
  • p.168: the color of the wallpaper: "yellow of an old bruise".
  • p.171: "irregular heartbeat".

Sickness, cold and absence of light prefigure death.

  • p.159. Sarah is at the hospital: "the tall chimney of an incinerator dribbled brownish-yellow smoke". Yellow death. Everything is subverted by war.

Certain animals are mentioned.

  • moth: night animal, one of the symbol of death.(p.98).
  • scythes: related to death. (p.98).
  • p.156: Rivers writes to Sassoon at his brother's place.
    • "the moth's huge shadow"
    • "darkened the page"
    • & Rivers has to convince Sassoon to go back fighting => presence of the Death.
  • owl: symbol of melancholy and death. (p.153)
  • dead fish (p.176). They find dead fish on the beach. Pat Barker could have avoided this but it creates a link between Nature and Death. It is also a way to see Burns's reactions: "Burns had stopped dead".

Conclusion

Many elements were added purposefully to create a whole universe of death and hostility. The point is not that Scotland is like that: it is not realism. It has to do with realism. Pat Barker makes the reader perceive things as the characters perceive them: the reader should feel like the characters. The scene is seen through their eyes, with death in their head: they see death everywhere.

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