Interpretation of Two Texts Term Paper

Pages: 5 (1737 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 2  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Military

¶ … World War I had devastating effects not only upon societies in general, but also upon individuals and their experience of themselves in these societies. Authors and artists particularly expressed their feelings of alienation as a result of the war and also as a result of a discrepancy between the general concept of the soldier as hero and the reality of the war experience. Robert Graves and Siegfried Sassoon provide two examples of literature that provide insight into these experiences.

Both Sassoon and Graves make an effort to present the individual soldier's experience as honestly as possible. In Sassoon's poem, "Suicide in the Trenches," the poet uses three stanzas to express the individual experience of the war and how this experience can never be explained to the "crowds" that remain behind. Before the war, the soldier is a somewhat shallow young man who committed no crime greater than approaching life with a lack of meaning. He is however happy in this approach. As such, the first stanza of the poem addresses the pre-war period in the life of the young soldier. Not even loneliness or darkness bothered him; it was a time of youthful bliss.

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The second stanza is a sudden and shocking contrast to this "empty joy." The soldier finds himself in the midst of war. The reader is not allowed a transition between the first state of bliss and the second of being "glum." It is a sudden and shocking change of state from bliss to extreme hardship. Furthermore, the happy young boy who needed no more than a lark to provide bliss in the first stanza now laments the "lack of rum." It is almost as if suicide serves as the next best solution to his misery. The act of suicide itself is treated like just one event in the many miserable occurrences of war. As such, an act that would have evoked shock, pity and fear in the society where the soldier once had a home, is regarded not as shocking, but as utterly meaningless among many other meaningless deaths.

Term Paper on Interpretation of Two Texts Assignment

Now, if the reader were to return to the first stanza, it appears ironic that the soldier could initially have been happy in an empty sense. The war has magnified the emptiness into something monstrous and miserable, where both life and death lose their meaning. The first and second stanzas present more than the contrast between bliss and sorrow. It presents the extremes of these two states in terms of the war. War creates a sense of unnatural misery to such an extent that even happy young boys commit suicide and not even their friends or family speak of them again. There is simply nothing. There is an emptiness in the misery that is much worse than the initial emptiness of joy.

The worst emptiness and lack of meaning however occur in the hearts of the crowds that welcome the survivors home. The speaker clearly has very little respect for a crowd who cheers its supposed "heroes" without the faintest understanding of the misery that took the life of the young soldier boy. The reference to "youth and laughter" in the final line of the poem serves not only as a unifying connection with the same idea in the first stanza, but also as a tragic reminder of what has been lost.

The main and most obvious difference between this work and Robert Graves's Goodbye to All That is the length of the work. What Sassoon manages to denote in three stanzas is echoed in Graves's book. World War I had a devastating effect upon the young hearts and minds of the respective protagonists.

Another significant element in both works is their honesty. Sassoon makes not effort to conceal the horrors of the war and its effect upon the central character of his poem. Similarly, Graves expresses his disillusionment with the apparent discrepancy of traditional European values and the actual events of the war.

According to both authors, the war changes everything. Graves's book provided an account of his haunted disillusion not only with society, but with the very values inherent in this society. Indeed, he was so shocked and horrified by the war that even its simplest elements, such as the trench telephone, put him off all sorts of technology for the rest of his life. Furthermore, he continued to be "haunted" by what he refers to as ghosts and nightmares.

This is a fate that Sassoon's soldier escapes. He commits suicide because of the extreme disillusionment and misery he experiences during the war. Like Graves, Sassoon uses a first-person narrator. However, this narrator remains nameless, as does the unfortunate young soldier. In this way, the poem denotes an experience that can be generalized to all soldiers in the war. The brevity of the poem not only lends the genre effectively to such a generalization, but also provides a very effective platform for the truly horrific experience of the war. Generalization provides a global platform by means of which the reader becomes aware of the fact that there is no specific individual soldier who experiences the war in this way, but that it is a general experience. This is the true horror and impact of Sassoon's poem.

Graves's book provides a more individual, specific experience by means of the first-person narrator. This in turn provides its own sense of horror, where the author provides a first-hand account of his own experiences as a result of the war. His disillusionment focuses upon the discrepancy between accepted values and the devastation of the war. Among these are not only the after-effects of the war, but also the way in which his countrymen treated German prisoners of war and their own tragic incompetence.

Graves was also traumatized in a physical sense, like Sassoon's soldier. For Sassoon, this traumatization lay in the general hardships suffered in the trenches. There was no hygiene, no warmth, and no rum to soften the impact of the hardship. Graves suffered a wound and had to travel by train for five days in the most dire of circumstances.

A further interesting element of Graves's book, which also contrasts the work strongly with that of Sassoon, is the effect of his personal affairs upon the writing. According to the introduction to the 1957 edition, the first version of the book was heavily influenced by Graves's lover, Laura Riding. When the love affair ended, Graves heavily revised the book, cutting certain elements and adding others. In general, the author is said to have believed that this created a more accurate account of the events, and particularly the elements relating to the war.

Structurally, one might compare the two works as addressing three stages in the lives of the protagonists: the pre-war stage, the war, and the post-war stage. Before the war, both the nameless soldier and Graves existed in society in a more or less happy-go-lucky fashion, completely oblivious to the horrors that war would hold for them.

The war stage in both works incorporates the full horror of their experiences during the war. Sassoon's economy with words makes this stage all the more stark and shocking. The poet does not make any attempt to soften the reality of what the war did to the solder. For Sassoon, the post-war stage does not need to include the central character in order to denote the after-effects of the tragedy. In fact, this very absence perpetuates the idea of meaninglessness in both the soldier's life and death. His pre-war happiness meant very little, being empty. However, at least it was youth and joy. During the war, all happiness is destroyed, and the soldier's life is even more meaningless. This makes death almost inevitable, and the suicide is not very surprising. The post-war stage in the poem perpetuates the emptiness, but in a more general sense, which translates to society as a whole. The crowds do not mourn for those who do not survive. Instead, they cheer for those who return. Once again, like the young soldier's joy, this is an empty happiness. It is however also a worse type of joy than that of the soldier at the beginning of the poem. It is empty, but it is not youthful. Being willing to forgive the soldier his emptiness because of his youth, the reader is unable to forgive the crowds, who appear to be cruel rather than kind when they cheer the soldiers who return home. The post-war soldiers in turn live the rest of their lives in misery.

Graves's book also broadly sketches these three stages; Graves's childhood and pre-war youth are permanently corrupted by his experience during the war. Unlike Sassoon's protagonist, he does not commit suicide, although he does suffer a type of mental and spiritual death. He is forever changed, and forever fearful of the ghosts and events held over from the war.

Another common element in both works is the fact of both individual and collective corruption. Graves and the soldier are… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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