The Realism In War English Literature Essay
|✅ Paper Type: Free Essay||✅ Subject: English Literature|
|✅ Wordcount: 2285 words||✅ Published: 1st Jan 2015|
In times of war one must simply endure to survive; as a seemingly insignificant foot soldier discovers in Charles Harrisons novel, Generals Die in Bed. Through this character Harrison strips away any possible glorifications that were previously found in most stories of war. Charles Harrison presents the reality of war without attempting to romanticize the idea of grand battles. War, as depicted in Harrison’s work, is an unadorned, hollow, and meaningless endeavor that nations have had the unfortunate habit of creating and recreating throughout history. Without this sense of safety, which previous works have accomplished by sugar coating war, Generals Die in Bed weaves together a representation of war that maximizes the full-blown power of a harsh reality. Harrison achieves a graphic portrayal of war through the novel’s form. More specifically, the clever use of structure, plot, characterization, language, and point of view allows Harrison to portray the stark contrast of the reality of war with the common perception of chivalry in battle.
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True to its anti-war reputation, the novel illustrates war in a dramatic and horrifying way. This is easily identified as the concept and purpose of war are continuously questioned. As the disapproval of war becomes a common theme, of Generals Die in Bed, many justifications behind these views become clear. Needless deaths and constant terror, as well as emotional suffering and trauma, become common factors that contribute to the distaste involved with war. Deaths and misery need no annotation; they simply are. These daily horrors only increase the damning nature towards war when they have no justifiable cause. As the question of “why” constantly crops up in the plot, the idea of a just war is heavily questioned. More simply, war makes no sense.
The plot further enforces the incomprehensible aspects of war by avoiding the traditional eight point arch and adopting a sustained tension and conflict, without the obligatory resolution that is supposedly substantial. Harrison’s novel does not employ this common convention; but creates a structure consisting of two main components: rest and action. The ‘rest’ is represented by the moments and periods in which the protagonist, and his fellow soldiers, takes his time away from the front lines. The ‘action,’ on the one hand, represents the ‘trench times,’ bombardments and raids that the soldiers had to face and endure.
This structural preference adds to the sense of immediacy and involvement that the reader experiences and allows the story of war to become more believable. In this way, Generals Die in Bed is debunking the romanticized notion that war is a duel and an extravagant battle. Even in war, there are periods of inaction. The dispatch; the months and weeks of being away from the trenches; the visit to London; and the benign conversations of soldiers all construct the varied pauses that punctuate the lives of the soldiers during the war. By including these inactive periods, Harrison is not making an attempt to portray the absence of conflict. In fact, Harrison achieves quite the opposite by means of including aspects of the war in every facet of life. For example, when the protagonist was vacationing in London, the conflict was not unfelt. Despite efforts to escape the war, vague traces of it follows him wherever he goes, like the sound of distant cannons. Even while trying to escape the terrors of warfare, the protagonist is unable to let go of his current mindset. During his visit to the theater, for example, the unnamed soldier notices that the play and audience trivialize the war, and “feel[s] they have no right to laugh at jokes about the war” (107).
Despite this, however, conflict does more than merely contribute to the sense that war is slowly consuming the lives around it. The conflict depicted in the novel works as an important event. By jumping from important event to important event, Harrison allows the protagonist to express his sense of confusion. Much like a lost soul, the soldier seems to wander through time. This effect, although not conventional, allows the reader to understand the effect that war can have on the mind, as well as contributes to the impression of a dazed soldier. In addition to this, the jumping of event also can contribute to a sense of befuddlement, suggesting that war cannot be understood, and lack of control. This lack of control can relate back to the inability to stop the damaging effects of war, but can also help portray the situation of the soldier: A soldier’s life is not his own, but belongs to the hierarchy of war. This sense of being lost, and not belonging to one’s self, is supported when Harrison does not give the novel a satisfactory and definitive resolution. Although the protagonist was sent home because of his leg injury, the reader knows that the conflict stays with him even after his separation from the war. The war bears eternal inner conflicts that an individual who had seen and borne the war will wrestle with throughout most of his life. This final portrayal of the damaging effects of war is, in truth, the turning point in Harrison’s protagonist; making the young soldier a round character.
Harrison depicts most of the characters as people who do not feel a glorified and heroic attachment to war. They are all practical and intent on staying alive during the course of the war. These characters are regular people who see the war as a terrifying nuisance and a needless disruption to their normal lives. The protagonist represents the qualities and features of all the other characters in the story, but shows signs of a struggling sense of self as well. Harrison tries to capture the realistic emotions and concerns of regular soldiers in his characterization of the male young protagonist. In the novel, the lead character holds no romantic notions about the war. He did not join the war out of patriotism or the need to feel heroic. He went there because he had to and was left with no choice. The first chapter of the novel sees the protagonist and all the other soldiers leaving Montreal with a heavy heart. They were well aware that their participation offered two possibilities: life or death.
What makes Harrison’s characters realistic is that the soldiers in the story are made to see the war for what it truly is. Their reactions to the war are honest because they have been exposed to the horrors of flying shrapnel and dead boys. What they see; hear; and feel, they reflect in the novel without pretense or pride. The horrific actions required for survival have humbled the soldiers, much like the thoughts of the protagonist after witnessing Brownie’s death. The soldiers felt no hate towards their enemies, but wished only to survive; they looked “without resentment towards the woods. [They were] animated only by a biting hunger for safety. Safetyâ€¦” (47) and the protagonist was not ashamed to admit that their immediate reaction was not pity, but the pressing need to survive and live.
These harsh living conditions, allow the soldiers to view the war from an entirely new perspective. The characters, particularly the protagonist, develop acute perceptions of the truth due to intense experiences. This is generally caused by self-reflection after some sort of struggle, similar to the internal conflict that the nameless soldier experienced after killing the young German soldier with his bayonette. Due to this and other conflicts, the protagonist eventually came to the realization that the true enemies in the war were not the soldiers from the opposing camp, but the struggles and hardships they continued to face. More specifically, the lead character believes that the their “enemies are- the lice, some of our officers, and death” (36).
The protagonist also concluded, along with his fellow soldiers, that while they are busy fighting the war; others are making a profit out the necessities and demands of war. Each soldier “wish[es] the war was over, but believe me, there’s plenty that don’t” (143). These perceptions reflect the characters’ understanding of war’s true nature. From their perspective, the war is entirely cruel and without benefits. More specifically, to the soldier “this business of military glory and arms means carrying parties, wiring fatigues, wet clothes, and cowering in a trench under shellfire” (140). The characters in the novel are skilled in bringing down the narrative of war from its high and mighty perch, and pulling it onto the ground to reduce it to facts.
Harrison simply reflects the ideals of his characters by his use of language. The novel is saturated with a language that is terse and to the point. Harrison does this on purpose in an endeavor to support and expound on the novel’s theme and intent. Conversations between comrades are never lengthy or pompous. While many would surmise that talks during war would tend to veer towards the philosophical, in truth, soldiers exchange few in depth conversations. Due of the tension-filled surroundings and the dire context they find themselves in, the soldiers often find the need to seek relief. Their conversations reflect this as they often daydream of food and clean sheets. In fact philosophy is almost never discussed between soldiers, and religion was only sought after in moments where one found himself close to death. During these moments the language used becomes more abrupt and jolting, adding to a sense of terror.
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The abrupt contains the apprehension, worries, and pain of the soldiers. Aware of this, Harrison employs disjointed, and almost monosyllabic, articulations and exchanges to create the sense of tension. The frugal use of language can give off a sense of dread, allowing readers to immerse or take part in the experience of the characters. When being bombarded in trenches, the world around them didn’t burst into extravagant, superfluous trains on thought and emotion; the world erupted into chaos and fragments of clear thought.
The sky is lit by hundreds of fancy fireworks like a night carnival. The air shrieks and catcalls. Still they come. I am terrified. I hug the earth, digging my fingers into every crevice, every hole. A blinding flash and an exploding howl a few feet in front of the trench. My bowels liquefy. (25).
This effect causes a more direct focus on the basic emotions and instinct in a moment of severe stress. This lack of thought process gives the protagonist animal-like qualities and emphasizes the sense of immediacy and confusion for the reader: this highlights their connection to the protagonist and creates an emotional reaction in the reader that is closer to what one may experience in war.. However, short sentences are not the only way in which Harrison creates this effect.
To depict the war in realistic and personal terms, Harrison adopts the first person point of view, using the pronouns “I” and “We” throughout the novel. The first person perspective makes the realities of war more pronounced and believable. The way in which he switches from the use of “I” and “we” can give the reader a more powerful reaction to the events in the book. During stressful times, as depicted in the excerpt above, the protagonist refers to himself as “I” to emphasize his survival instinct, and the action in the scene. In other words, the realism that Harrison aims at is conveyed effectively because the protagonist tells his story of war from his own vantage point. The events, feelings, and ideas contained in the novel take their basis on the narrator having participated in the war himself.
. However, during periods of rest or contemplation, the protagonist uses the pronoun “we” to refer to himself and his comrades. The use of “we” enables the reader to realize that the war extends beyond the protagonist. In addition to this, the pronoun “we” promotes the reader to feel the unifying effects of war, ultimately creating a more realistic account of the war. It is not enough that Harrison employs a first person point of view; he chooses to depict the war from the perspective of the soldier. This is an imperative narrative strategy because it creates more trust between the reader and the protagonist, encouraging a sense of reliability.
In his novel, Generals Die in Bed, Charles Harrison challenges all the glorifying and romantic notions people may have about war. Although his protagonist is not a hero, he is a realistic representation of the survivor. The war in which the soldiers see themselves holds no splendor, but it kills, traumatizes, and scars. This is the war that Harrison came to witness as a former soldier, and this is the image in which he hopes to leave his readers. Armed with this vivid experience, he makes no attempt to discolor the truths about war. In not aspects of his novel does Harrison shy from his realistic perception of war. In fact, the strategic method in which Harrison constructed his novel helps to convey his message to his readers: war holds no glory, it holds not meaning, and yet it is pursued.
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