Horrors of War

|Explain how R. C Sherriff conveys the horrors of war to the audience of “Journey’s End” | | | |English | | | |2/28/2010 | | | |Chloe Archer | Explain how R. C Sheriff conveys the horrors of war to the audience of “Journey’s End” Journey’s End” is a play written by R. C Sheriff, who had fought during the First World War. This enabled him to bring his experiences into the play which adds to the realism of the French trenches in 1918. First premiered in the year 1928 (10 years after the end of WW1), the audience would have been sensitive to the play because there was a real possibility that they’d lost friends and family in the war. The entire action of “Journey’s End” does not leave the dugout where the men are based; which allows the audience an insight of how life was for British companies during WW1 and how they coped with war.
Although Sheriff did not intend his play to be focused on the horrors of war, his depiction of a realistic setting and characters convey this. We are given information about the war and the men’s way of life by the setting. ‘Through the doorway can be seen the misty grey parapet of a trench and a narrow strip of starlit sky. ’ This shows that the dugout was claustrophobic and frightening since they were so close to no man’s land where so many lives were lost like Raleigh’s. During Raleigh’s death scene, R. C Sheriff uses the stage directions to metaphorically describe Raleigh’s gradual death. The solitary candle burns with a steady flame….. The shock stabs out the candle flame. ’ The stage directions help to describe what is happening outside of the dugout such as ‘The shelling had risen to a great fury’. The writer has personified the shelling for the effect that war has a life of its own which cannot be controlled by the men, ‘stretcher-bearers’ can be heard by the audience off stage, this shows that people are being injured by the ‘fury’ of the shelling. Hardy and Osborne’s handover lists facts to explain to the audience what happened previously when ‘a dug-out got blown up and came down in the men’s tea.
They were frightfully annoyed. ’ R. C Sheriff has used dark humour to show how the men cope with the war. Also Hardy gives important information on the artillery “We’ve got a Lewis gun just here-“. To deter away from the uncontrollable war the men would talk about the things that could be altered or controlled; for instance Trotter enjoys controlling what they eat ‘Keep ‘em and use ‘em for dumplings next time we ‘ave boiled beef. ’ This helps the men feel secure knowing that there are some things that are controllable and that they have a future albeit only in the short term.

A few of the characters are deeply affected by the war; one of them being Hibbert who attempts to use ‘neuralgia’ as an excuse to be discharged from the frontline. This is deemed cowardice by the rest of the soldiers ‘Better die of the pain than be shot for deserting. ’ This is said by Stanhope when Hibbert tries to leave before the German attack. This quote also shows how cowardice was dealt with during the First World War and why it drove other men to cope with war in different ways. For example, Stanhope, turns to drink (alcohol) and soldiers are heard saying that he ’gets a reputation out here for drinking’.
This quote shows that most of the men know Stanhope drinks and accept it even though he is a commanding officer. As an audience we are told that he didn’t drink before he joined the war. This is shown by the conversation Osborne has with Raleigh, in which he says Stanhope ‘caught some chaps in a study with a bottle of whisky. Lord! The roof nearly blew off. ’ This quote shows the irony of the situation because when Raleigh knew Stanhope he used to confiscate alcohol off of students but now he has found comfort in drinking it.
However Raleigh himself realised the horror of war when Osborne was killed post raid, ‘How can I sit down and eat that-when-when…. -when Osborne’s… ’ this quote shows that Raleigh does not know how to cope with Osborne’s death. As Stanhope hasn’t mentioned Osborne after the raid Raleigh thinks that he doesn’t care but he has ‘to forget’ so that he can bear to carry on fighting in the futile war. One of Journey’s End’s main themes is the futility of war; we are shown the uselessness of it when the raid-men returned 7 fewer than when they left.
Including Osborne, the fallen men had sacrificed their lives for important information from a German officer which they never got as the German was only ‘a bare headed German boy…. ’ who told them what they already knew. So the raid was wasted as the only new information they discovered was that a German soldier carries a pocket knife as well as other ‘oddments’. Stanhope emphasizes this when he ‘speaks in a dead voice’ after the general celebrated ‘how awfully nice- if the brigadier’s pleased. ’ These quotes also indicate that the soldier’s actions are at the general’s whim.
The audience saw the war transform Raleigh from a strong eager boy, who was clearly inexperienced as he was unsure of how to address other officers ‘Good evening (he notices Osborne’s grey hair and adds:)sir. ’ Another example of his inexperience is when he states ‘how frightfully quiet it is….. i thought there would be an awful row here’ this shows that he has no concept of the reality of war. However, as time moves on and the play progresses we see Raleigh develops in maturity. We see this when Raleigh and Osborne are having their last drink before the raid; ‘I wonder what the Boche are doing over there now?……..
I don’t know. D’you like Coffee…? ’ the author shows here that Raleigh is keen to know as much as possible about the raid whilst Osborne is trying to put it off for as long as possible as he is worried about the ‘millions of bullets’. We, as an audience, see Raleigh become deeply affected by the war, succeeding the raid, (when he had left Osborne dead, in no man’s land). His appearance is more rugged and dismal in comparison to his previous shining uniform this could be a reflection of his emotions as well as just war worn; this would be seen as a landmark in Raleigh’s life in the trenches.
The audience is taken through Raleigh’s experience of war and his relationship with his fellow men and officers. He became a steadfast part of the story with which the audience could relate and he formed a connection between the characters and action taking place. It is therefore a loss when he dies that is felt by everyone absorbed in the play. His and the play’s final scene portrays a young man alone in a dark place, with a solitary candle burning for company but is extinguished in a raid that collapses the men’s shelter and snuffs out his life just like the candle.
The men’s way of life in the trenches was isolated and boring, which left them to find ways of entertaining themselves: from the opening conversation between Hardy and Osborne we are told one of the ways that they amused themselves, ‘Ever had earwig races?… We’ve had ‘em every evening. ’ Mason is seen as a main source of humour and light relief for the men a good example of this is when he has an ‘unpleasant surprise’ which is a tin of apricot chunks labelled pineapple chunks. This light humour helps the men to cope with the dire way of life; this is in contrast to the dark humour.
The men have to live with ‘about two million’ rats which they have to shoot otherwise they ‘gnaw at your boots’ rats also carried many lice and fleas which then infected the men so personal hygiene was hard to maintain. Stanhope talks about imagination ‘He doesn’t see into the earth beyond – the worms wandering about round the stones and roots of trees’. This quote was about Trotter and his lack of imagination which ‘sharpens the mind’ the quote also adds to the claustrophobic living conditions knowing that they are at the same level as worms in the earth.
The men also told stories to keep themselves occupied whether from war life or home life, ‘I spent all the time in the garden making a rockery. In the evenings I used to sit and smoke and read – and my wife used to knit socks and play the piano a bit. ’ This was said by Osborne who is known to be the ‘family man’. We are given several images of war throughout the play, Osborne the family man who passed his belongings onto Stanhope to give to his wife before the raid with the possibility that he mightn’t return. This shows his love for his family giving them his personal belongings as a reminder of him and his compassion.
Raleigh is seen as stereotypical, eager to fight for his country, recruit. ‘full of guts’ which was one of the reasons why he was selected for the raid. Also he idolised Captain Stanhope from his school memories and was eager to meet him again. The audience are prepared for tragedy at the end of the play because a main character had already died, who was likeable so it showed that no matter how popular the character was he could still be killed. Also when R. C. Sheriff personified the stage directions to give the shelling a life of it’s own from ‘the lighter “crush” f the smaller shells, there comes the deep resounding “boom” of Minenwerfer. ’ The noise created from the booms and crushes would also create tension. In conclusion I believe that R. C. Sheriff best shows the horrors of war through the character Raleigh because i feel that he represents war because war starts with an innocence and as the play progresses it is slowly lost this his character could also be representitive of the human race starting with innocence and as the play pshows the affect war can have on a person and the gradual burden of it.
The stage directions are a main factor as well because you can not see further than the dug-out, which isolates you away from the ‘front-line’ and the stage directions show war itself with the crashing and booming of bombs and bullets; they also tell the story and help set the scene. I personally feel that war is useless

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