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Discuss the theme of ‘Human Dignity’ in Willis Hall’s ‘The Long and the Short and the Tall’.

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Introduction

Discuss the theme of 'Human Dignity' in Willis Hall's 'The Long and the Short and the Tall'. Willis Hall, author of 'The Long and the Short and the Tall' has personally expressed his belief that the primary theme in his play is the idea of human dignity. In this essay we shall attempt to analyse the reasons behind and arguments against this belief, and to explore other themes discussed in the play. We shall begin by exploring Willis Hall's proposed theme of human dignity. Given that the author of the play expressed this belief himself, it would be arrogant to say that this interpretation is wrong. However, we shall look at how well this theme is conferred within the play. First, however, we must look exactly at what the author means by the phrase 'human dignity'. My original view of the phrase was that it was to refer to trying to maintain those external barriers that most humans build up to present a respectable facade to other people, while also dealing with the horrors of war. The view taken in the 1965 Hereford plays edition of the book is slightly different. Here, it talks of how the book was referring to the maintenance not of emotional barriers, but of morals and ethics, while also facing war. Both these themes make sense in terms of the play, and those also in terms of the phrase, human dignity. It is therefore possible that perhaps the author was referring to both in his interpretation of the play. I would further argue, even, though perhaps those themes are in fact one and the same; if you think of the mind like an onion, perhaps morals and ethics are simply deeper layers, built up consciously and deeply, but layers that can be stripped away nonetheless. We shall therefore use this as our interpretation of the phrase human dignity, and will proceeded to look at how the theme is explored in the text. ...read more.

Middle

Saved from the task of having to kill him, they can now express their true curiosity. This is most of their first encounter with the enemy, their first chance to see why they are actually fighting. Their initial reactions, the comment of 'he's not exactly a handsome bloke' symbolises the probable confusions of the men at the appearance of the prisoner. This is the enemy, the opposition. The fact that it is also a man, much like themselves, comes a bit of a shock to most of the men of the patrol. For the purposes of brevity, we shall skip the majority of the intervening text, which tells us little about the themes of the play, and instead focus only on a number of key stages in the play. The first of these is shortly after their capture the prisoner, and focuses mainly on Bamforth and the prisoner. While we have previously commented that Bamforth seemed not to be surprised at the prisoners appearance; perhaps applying his disrespect for the army to the other side, realising that perhaps they are as unorganised as the English side, he does seem slightly surprised that the prisoner does as he asks. Perhaps this is another clue to the complexity of Bamforth's mind: he creates such a shell around himself, such a controlled personality, that he deceives himself as well. He knows that, really, the enemy cannot be what they are made out to be, but they cannot be any more organised or determined than the English army, but perhaps he doesn't really believe it. Bamforth, after his initial surprise at the prisoner, seems to treat him like a pet or a toy. This was my initial reaction to the theme of human dignity; that it referred to the lack of the prisoner's dignity. The next real development in the play, as related to the theme of human dignity, occurs later into act two. ...read more.

Conclusion

Bamforth is a good example of this- he has built up so many barriers, presents so many facades around himself to survive, and now we see underneath how he is really the most moral of the group- or perhaps the fact that he has built up so many barriers means that the outer ones take the brunt of the effect of the war, leaving the inner ones- his morals- intact. This can be viewed in many ways. The book ends with a fight between Mitchem, Johnston, and Bamforth. Whitaker, meanwhile, is left to guard the prisoner, and, in the heat of the action, shoots him. This, perhaps, is the biggest symbol in the book about the nature of war. The prisoner is not killed by a hero, or because he fights them; he is killed by a young, inexperienced, and mostly scared soldier, in the heat of the moment. There is no consideration, and it demonstrates how dignity has no place in war. The recent TV programme, 'Band of Brothers' portrays this very effectively - the characters are not heroes, many of them get shot by others who have no idea who they are, and there is general absurdity in the situation. This is exactly the theme portrayed in the book. Finally, after the noise of the shot, the patrol decides to move out of the hut and attempts to reach the base. We learn of the death of Whitaker, and infer that the rest of the group have suffered similar fates. The book ends with a little irony: Johnstone, the hater of the Japanese, most 'nasty' member of the patrol, is the only one left standing, and is forced to surrender to the Japanese. He is throwing himself into the situation the prisoner was in. We do not know how he gets treated, or what happens to him. In the last line, a bird sings in the treetops. There is no justice, no meaning. Such is the nature of war. Nicholas Clarke 16/01/2008 Mrs. Farrell - English Coursework ...read more.

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