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.

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.

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