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.


  • "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.

How human beings presented in Regeneration are different from historical characters ?

Paradoxically, several characters had real historical existence and yet, there is no difference between those who really existed and those invented: it seems that they are on the same level. The major difference lays in characterization, i.e. the ways in which human beings are constructed in characters. In history books, the stress is usually on public life whereas in fictions the stress is on subjectivity.

Regeneration is a faithful evocation of World War One and the view of the war that is given is the juxtaposition of subjective views of characters.


A – Places

Where are the characters presented ?

  • hospital + patients’ room [Private]
  • one of the character’s home [Private]
  • the lovers’ place [Intimate]
  • several passages showing Rivers in his bathroom (p.44) [Most private

B – Temporal aspect

Most of characters have a past:

  • A pair of characters is introduced only to provide a character with a past : Prior’s parents. We learn about the parents’ education, Prior’s asthma, his psychological state.
  • Rivers himself has a past: we learn about his relationship with his father, who was a priest and a speech therapist (he helped out stammering children). [p.153-156].
  • Rivers’s childhood: Rivers stammered himself. It makes him more human, with a certain fragility: he becomes closer to the reader.

C – What characters say

Indirect characterization relies heavily on speech. When they talk about war, we learn more about them than about war.
Example: [p.83]. Dialogue between Sassoon and Owen: it deals with war but the
way they talk is extremely subjective.

D – Stress on the characters’ feelings

Rivers is a sensitive human being but a military officer too.

  • Sassoon: kind of anguished [p.63] when he discusses his homosexuality
    with Rivers. [p.199]: homosexuals are sent to psychiatric places to be "cured".
  • One character is introduced for the purpose of showing other characters’ feeling : Sarah.
  • Not only are we introduced to characters’ feelings but also to their unconscious life due to Rivers’s job. Indeed 3 dreams are fully developed.
    1. Anderson’s dream [p.28]: after the dream comes Rivers’s interpretation.
    2. Rivers’s dream [p.45-48]: his own dream and his interpretation
    3. Rivers’s dream [p.235-239].

The reader is given access to the depth of the characters.

E – Characters’ thoughts

Either in indirect style or, quite frequently, in free indirect style (fid). Effect: to reduce the distance between the reader and the characters. The reader is placed within the characters’ mind.

p.172: it goes on with Rivers’s thought: "Silly ?". We learn that Burns is so ill that he cannot read news of the war.

F – There is a hero

Rivers is both the protagonist and the hero. As the main protagonist, he is the center of the novel, everything revolves around him. There are only 3 chapters when Rivers is not here. The novel closes on him.

Other characters are like satellites around him. In the final chapter, they say goodbye to Rivers but they stay in his mind. Rivers is the hero : he is presented as an outstanding person, a terribly hard-worker. What is remarkable is the way he deals with his patients: his capacity for empathy (the ability to feel what others feel). He is a modern psychiatrist.

Yealland is another secondary character who shows how good Rivers is. Both are psychiatrists. Yealland is the anti-hero, the villain without any humanity. He is introduced because he really existed and because he is necessary to show the contrast between Rivers and himself.

Study of the passage p11-12: from "What kind of questions did they ask.." to "with quite a bit of his leg left inside".

This is the first real dialogue between Rivers and Sassoon. Sassoon is presented as shell-shocked. This passage is composed of a dialogue and 12 lines of narrative. Most of the narrative comments describe Sassoon’s behaviour.

I. Dialogue and verisimilitude

Dialogue enhances verisimilitude. Rivers is a psychiatrist and Sassoon is the patient. It is a normal professional situation. The relations are based on dialogue. The psychiatrist has to understand and must invite patients to talk to overcome the previous trauma.
"War neurosis" : technical language.

II. Dialogue and drama

Tension, conflictual situation.On the one hand, Rivers is a military psychiatrist whose duty is to heal the soldiers to send them back to the front in France. On the other hand, Sassoon is a poet who has written a protestation against the war.

The conflict is all the more obvious that there is no narrator in this passage. The two characters seem to address the reader directly.

III. Dialogue and character’s development

We learn about the characters when reading the dialogue. The dialogue is also used as stage directions: it has a theatrical function. Stage directions are indications of characters’ personality.

l.2: "Sassoon smiled".
  • smile is not expected
  • ironical when he says "Don’t you know ?"

He asks another question instead of answering. Non-answers. l.6: Sassoon describes the Board as "rather amusing" : flippant, arrogant, irony.

Flippancy changes with the psychological evolution of Sassoon.

  • l.23 : "looked surprised".
    From that point onwards, Sassoon is not so sure of himself.
    Rivers managed to destabilize him.
  • l.33 : "Mad Jack" —– "looked taken aback"
    Even more destabilized.
  • l.37 : " "Is it ?" Sassoon looked down at his hands".
    Avoids confrontation, playing hide and seek.
  • l.40 : "he looked up to see if he should continue".
    Sassoon recognizes that Rivers is a form of authority.

IV. Dialogue and banishment of the past

The use of dialogue modifies temporality because historical events are suddenly brought out of the past into the present situation.The novel was written in 1991. The passage deals with 1917. A history book uses 3rd person and past tense. Here, past is made present in the dialogue. Sassoon speaks of his own time (immediate time), talks about his Board and some parts of his experience in France a few months before. The period of time is reduced : the novel is situated in the First World War and 1917 becomes the temporal landmark.

Sassoon starts speaking in past tense but l.44 he reverts to sentences without verbs (nominal sentences). No verb means no passing of time, no past.l.46 : present tenses again. The experience is so drastic that when speaking he is reliving the moment. Past becomes present again. That is exactly what Rivers had hoped for.

Technical remarks

  • indirect speech : disappearance of the past.
  • l.5 : Sassoon reports the question he was asked. For us readers, it is as
    if we witnessed the scene of the Board: it is shown more than told.

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.


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".


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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