Coursework question.

I decided to do a complete turnaround therefore I only have a question and no quote:

How is the ambiguity of madness presented in ‘Birdsong’ by Sebastian Faulks, ‘Regeneration’ by Pat Barker and a selection of poetry by Wilfred Owen through form, structure and language?


‘Regeneration’ by Pat Barker is the first in her Great War trilogy. It is set in Craiglockhart psychiatric hospital in 1917 with Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen as patients. The story follows Dr Rivers from the beginning of Sassoon’s treatment to his discharge.  Barker’s grandfather was an important influence on her. As a young man, he had fought in World War I; toward the end of his life, he became increasingly haunted by his war experience. This helped Barker understand the war which made its effect more effective and personal. However Barker attributes the inspiration for ‘Regeneration’ to her husband, a neurologist, who was familiar with Dr. W.H.R. Rivers’s experiments on nerve regeneration in the early twentieth century.

The main theme of ‘Regeneration’ is madness and it is central to the novel as a whole. On one hand the very simple theme of madness plaques the soldiers; they are outcasts from society. But on the other hand the theme has a more complex and deeper meaning. Dr Rivers questions the nature of madness. His ideas of society change; He begins to wonder whether it truly was madness for these men to break down in the face of such horror and death, or whether it was madness that so many men (including Rivers himself) blindly followed a program of war and decimation in the first place. Rivers begins to wonder if he himself is mad for “healing” patients only to send them back to war to be killed. ‘Regeneration’ questions what it is to be truly sane.

This novel is a piece of historical prose in which fact and fiction are intertwined. Barker uses many similar techniques to Owen and Faulks

Important quotations

‘A horse’s bit. Not an electrode, not a teaspoon. A bit. An instrument of control.’

These are Rivers’s thoughts, after witnessing Yealland’s treatment of his patients with electro-shock therapy, Rivers has a nightmare in which he is a doctor trying to shove something into the mouth of a patient who resists him. After he wakes, he realizes that what he was trying to shove into the mouth was a horse’s bit, and that the patient who resisted him in his dream was Sassoon. This passage evidences Rivers’s thought process as he works out the meaning of his dream. He reasons that the bit, an instrument of control, must symbolize the control he has over his patients—how he forces them into roles they no longer desire.

Throughout the passage, Barker skillfully employs short, incomplete sentences to mimic Rivers’s train of thought. These sentences draw emphasis to the bit, which turns out to be the key to understanding the dream. Rivers’s nightmare underscores the theme of control in the novel, and forces us to consider the difference between the methods of Rivers and Yealland. The nightmare raises the question of whether the method of control matters if the end is the same. As an arm of the state, a society whose values Rivers now questions, he is forced to reconsider his role as a healer to his patients.

‘She belonged with the pleasure-seeking crowds. He both envied and despised her, and was quite coldly determined to get her. They owed him something, all of them, and she should pay.’

On an excursion one day, Prior takes Sarah to the beach, where they see crowds of people, all trying to enjoy every ounce of beauty in the day. Everywhere Prior sees people with ice cream, laughing, and strolling on the beach. Sarah is pleased and amused by the scene. Prior resents her happiness; he feels completely excluded from the joy of other people. He watches as these people, who have escaped Edinburgh for the day, also seem to have succeeded in momentarily escaping the war. Prior is envious because he can never mentally escape the war; everything brings back memories for him. Furthermore, he is not so certain that he wants to escape it; he feels he is betraying the poor men who are fighting by trying to forget them. Prior’s anger becomes focused on Sarah: as a woman, she has been protected from all the horrors of war. He is jealous of her ignorance and innocence, which affords her an unburdened happiness he can never achieve.

Critical interpretations-

As this novel is written by a woman there are many elements that a feminist would identify with. A possible feminist interpretation would see that the women are strong and the men are weak. The women work but the men are ‘avoiding’ their work. Women are portrayed as strong and independent.

A Marxist would strongly relate to the issues brought forward in the novel, there is no class system, they are all ill soldiers together- there is never any mention of their wealth or status.

Psychologial effect of war.

The First World War is often associated with the syndrome called shell shock. This was originally believed to have a physical origin, caused by the impact of loud shelling. However, it became clear that soldiers who had never been exposed to shells were developing the same symptoms. During the horrendous Battle of the Somme in 1916, there was a severe increase in the number of cases. Because of its psychological origins, shell shock was defined as a neurosis, and there was little sympathy for shell-shocked soldiers. Many boys lied about their age to get into the British Army, and many of the fighting forces were ill equipped to deal with the carnage of the western front. Some refused to fight and were shot for cowardice, while others suffered the effects of shell shock for many years afterwards.

During the Second World War (1939-45) psychiatrists in the United States used psychological testing to determine a recruit’s suitability to be a soldier. Despite these tests, the effects of battle were still hard on soldiers. Many demonstrated symptoms of high levels of stress, a condition referred to as battle fatigue. These soldiers were removed from the fighting and rested. More women were closer to the front lines than in previous wars, but the authorities still thought they were less suited to being close to the fighting than men. A number of men and women were discharged from the forces in the Second World War as they were considered unsuitable for the military. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was the term used after 1980 to explain the effect of war on soldiers and was later used outside the military to describe the impact of a traumatic event on an individual. However, there is a long history of different diagnoses used to try and get to grips with the psychological impact of war. The most recent war syndromes include Gulf War syndrome, experienced mainly by American and British soldiers who fought in the 1991 Gulf War.

Civilians, particularly children, can also suffer the effects of trauma. Child psychoanalysis emerged during the Second World War from the work of Anna Freud, psychoanalyst and daughter of Sigmund Freud. She set up a centre for young war victims called the Hampstead War Nursery. Here the children separated from their parents were given foster care. After the war this continued at the Bulldogs Bank Home, an orphanage that was run by Freud’s colleagues and which took care of children who had survived the concentration camps.


I was having a look through this blog and I thought everyone could use this 🙂

English Literature Rocks

From Wikipedia:

Feminism is a collection of movements and ideologies aimed at defining, establishing, and defendingequal political, economic, and social rights for women.[1][2] This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist advocates or supports the rights and equality of women.[3]Feminist theory, which emerged from these feminist movements, aims to understand the nature of gender inequality by examining women’s social roles and lived experience; it has developed theories in a variety of disciplines in order to respond to issues such as the social construction of sex and gender.[4][5] Some of the earlier forms of feminism have been criticized for taking into account only white, middle-class, educated perspectives. This led to the creation of ethnically specific or multiculturalist forms of feminism.[6]

Feminist activists campaign for women’s rights – such as in contract law, property, and 

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What is a critical interpretation ?

English Literature Rules

Critical Interpretation.

Click on the link above – this is an excellent page defining ‘critical interpretation’. You should follow the essay plan sturcutre to make sure you have sufficient material ABOUT each text you have studied.

It is also imperative that you read each others blogs – I need to see each post getting lots of LIKES to show you are doing this. Aim for at least 5 or 6, please. Reading the other blogs is part of your homework, and your ALB’s will reflect whether or not you are doing this.

Different critical approaches.

  • Reader-Response Criticism: This approach takes as a fundamental tenet that “literature” exists not as an artifact upon a printed page but as a transaction between the physical text and the mind of a reader. It attempts “to describe what happens in the reader’s mind while interpreting a text” and reflects that reading, like writing…

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‘Birdsong’ is a powerful and moving novel which explores how far the human spirit can be pushed but also how life is driven by love. Birdsong was written in 1993 and therefore is a reflection of life before and after the war. This contrasts to Wilfred Owen’s style as Owen’s poetry is original and gives an authentic feel of the war because he was there.

The structure of ‘Birdsong’ is in seven parts. Each part is set in a different time period in England and France. This allows us to see how war has affected life from all different perspectives. It shows the reader how awful the war was but also how forgotten war heroes and soldiers had become. Elizabeth knows nothing of the scale of war nor how many men died sacrificing themselves for their country. By beginning the novel pre-war and then moving onto the war we feel as though we lived through the hardship and cruel nature of war. Part three introduces Elizabeth and we feel angry at her for not knowing about the brave men who lived and died in horrendous conditions. She represents a generation of people who know nothing of war. By splitting the novel into past and ‘present’ we see the magnitude of war and also the determination of a woman after the war.

Faulk’s representation of characters is important to understand the depth of the novel. Stephen shows how the war changed men. However, he also shows the unnaturalness of curiosity of war. Stephen claims that he only continues because he wants to see how far men can be pushed. He has become a cold-hearted machine – he is the epitome of what the government wanted, a man who was prepared to do anything to kill the enemy. On the other hand Weir is a total opposite. Weir represents a normal man, a man frightened of war. He looks to Stephen for friendship and compassion; Weir and Stephen become friends because of their loneliness outside of the war. Another normal man is represented in the form of Jack Firebrace. He shows what life was like for a ‘sewer rat’, his men are mocked by the other soldiers but Jack’s job is important. Jack also represents family and love, he is the man with most to lose. We feel a close connection to Jack so when he dies we feel as though we knew him and this creates a feeling of sadness for the reader. Stephen is distant because of his failed relationship with the only woman he has ever loved – Isabelle. Isabelle is a fragile but detached before Stephen arrives. Isabelle gains in confidence as her love for Stephen grows. Isabelle represents women of war – they were not allowed an opinion or given any power to make their own decisions. However, Isabelle differs from these women after she meets Stephen because he gives her a new life. Elizabeth is a total contrast to Isabelle – Elizabeth represents a modern woman and she shows what it is like for women in the modern era; she is able to vote and have a career without a man making the decisions.

Faulks’ language brings the imagery of war to life. There are four particular themes across the seven parts: military, romance, secrecy and nature. The first part of the novel is set in Amiens in 1910 and it concentrates on the intimate and secret relationship between Isabelle and Stephen. The opening of the novel immediately introduces the theme of secrecy with ‘unregarded passageways’ and ‘unseen footsteps.’ This creates an air of mystery like the Azaires are living in secret. The opening is calm and idyllic, the word Somme coming from an old Celtic word meaning tranquillity which is ironic because within six years this place will become one of the most bloody and horrific battle of World War One. Faulks disperses the language of war even in part one, Faulks uses Azaire to symbolise military ideas. He says that the people who are ‘not qualified’ will reclassified and their pay will be docked. This shows the importance of education and skill. Something that the majority of WWI soldiers did not have. Stephen is surprised at the ‘simplicity’ of this ‘assault.’ By using the word assault it creates an atmosphere of conflict but also produces of feeling nausea because we know what is going to happen.

Another key theme in ‘Birdsong’ is romance. Stephen and Isabelle love story begins and ends in part one. Their love has connotations with red, like the first place where their love affair began the ‘red room.’ But also with white, Isabelle is described as porcelain, her white skin is pure and innocent but her passion is red. Isabelle is not naïve, she knows what she is doing is wrong and so does Stephen but they love each other. Another love that blossoms in the novel is between Stephen and Jeanne. Their love is totally different to his previous love, it is mature and based on love not passion.

Nature always thwarts industry during the war. In the beginning nature was soft and loving, it was protective of it’s people and animals. Despite this tenderness nature has, it still goes against the English and French soldiers in the war. The weather stops them from making an attack early which kills most of their men. The rain fills the trenches with mud and the heat attracts rats and lice. Nature goes against man.

Faulks’ skilful techniques flow through the novel with ease creating a truly captivating war novel. There are three major techniques that Faulks employs in his novel: sound, personification and detached language. Faulks like Owen explores sound as a way to develop the reader’s feeling towards war, ‘a shrill, demented sound’ this powerful and cold line creates an atmosphere of fear for the soldiers. It is like watching the battle and despairing by not being able to help. Faulks’ personification is similar to Owen’s. By using the word ‘grazing’ to talk about near misses. It is like the gun is eating away at the men’s bodies but also the constant sound eats away at their sanity. The word grazing is ambiguous meaning grazing skin but also has connotations with agricultural. In WWI the majority of families were involved in agricultural in some way. This means that they would understand this type of language, the imagery of a bullet biting the skin of an innocent man would relate to the farming community.

One of Faulks’ most successful techniques is detached language. By being unemotional makes the reader care for a character more. Faulks brings the war to life on the page, interweaving the often horrific, unbearably tense scenes of action with the incredibly moving personal lives and interior emotions of the men, who are sensitively and realistically drawn. Faulks uses imagery like ‘humps of khaki’ and ‘clog the process’ like the men are machines and the industry is breaking down. Although these lines are detached and vague we still have a gruesome and vivid image in our head of bodies clogging the trenches and being left to die.

Overall Faulks uses structure, imagery and language to show the barbaric state of life during the 1900’s but also presents the great change that their sacrifices created. Faulks and Owen have similarities in language but contrast in structure. ‘Birdsong’ is unlike any WWI novel with it’s unique and unconventional look at life, love and death.


In the first few pages of ‘Birdsong’ Faulks has already embedded the idea of war and tunnels into the story. The river that flows through the Somme reminds the reader of secret passageways and secrets. Azaire is also used as a military symbol because he uses words such as ‘retrench’ and ‘assault’ we are given the idea that the workers are soldiers which in a few years will be the truth.
Despite the military language Faulks also uses imagery of nature to show how beautiful the world is. Faulks also begins to establish the difference between industry and nature, by having Stephen in the middle of all the beauty. This perhaps foreshadows how nature will hinder industry in the great war.
Faulks also uses romantic imagery and oxymorons to describe Isabelle:
‘Her clothes were more fashionable but revealed less’
She is described in a delicate and beautiful way. Faulks uses ‘white’ to describe Isabelle, perhaps implying that she is pure and virtuous. She is the ultimate temptress.