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Analysis of the "Riverboat Trip" in the novel "Birdsong" by Sebastian Faulks as a key narrative moment

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Introduction

Riverboat Trip The riverboat trip is a key moment in the first part of the novel. The way that it prefigures the war shows how Faulk's interlinks peacetime with war. The trip can be used to highlight Stephen's view of the war, and also his views of companionship, shown by his interactions with Madame Azaire. The first piece of evidence that it is relating back to the war comes in the first paragraph on P44. All of the characters have had their lunch and they are sitting quietly, passing time. This is as though they are men after war. They are all silent and want to be alone. During the paragraph, there is no speech. This is like the aftermath of war because they are all reflecting on the events of the day. This point is reiterated in the next paragraph where they 'clambered back into the boat.' This does not make it sound like they are all out for lunch, but more like some form of struggle. ...read more.

Middle

'Hectic abundance', 'death', 'shot' is just some that Faulks uses. The whole description of the water gardens could be used to describe the war, and mainly the trenches. It is almost as though it is portraying the harsh conditions that the soldiers had to endure, 'What was held to be a place of natural beauty was a stagnation of living tissue which could not be saved from decay.' Stephen sees the fields and the gardens that are picture of beauty, and inadvertently relates them to the war. The water gardens would one day be used to fight a war, where the killing of life would happen on a constant basis. There are three key moments when we see what the effect of war would have on men physically and psychologically. When Stephen catches Madame Azaire's eye, we are told that she 'looked into his with no social smile or conversational suggestion.' Many men during the war suffered from shellshock, and the war was certainly a time when men saw goings on that would haunt them for the rest of their lives. ...read more.

Conclusion

Stephen shows us of a belief that he holds throughout the novel, that we all die and return to the earth (circle of life). He calls the ground the 'clinging earth', as though it is dragging you down towards your death. This attitude is very pessimistic, and is brought up again by Faulks during the novel, when Stephen talks to Weir about the limits of man. When the trip comes to an end, B�rard does as any general would do and rewrites 'the story of the afternoon'. This would have been typical of most generals who 'edited' stories to highlight the glory. It is also true of telegrams that were sent home to the families of the killed. They would get informed of how their son died bravely on a mission that was critical in the war against evil. This of course, was mostly untrue, but eased the pain and suffering back home. Generally, the riverboat trip is merely just a way for Faulks to prefigure the war through the eyes of Stephen. ...read more.

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