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Henri Barbusse: UnderFire. Review of novel about French squad in WW1

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In Under Fire: The Story of a Squad, Henri Barbusse describes the most pervasive means of disillusionment: the reality of war itself. Under Fire follows the fate of the French Sixth Battalion during the Great War. Barbusse focuses his novel around a group of average soldiers and emphasizes their lamentable sufferings and disillusionment. These men, as Barbusse depicts, all of which consider war to be a matter of simply surviving rather than a heroic act, have nothing more to hope for than their daily rations or a side trip to a hospital. Written in 1916, and based on Barbusse's own experiences, this novel offers a vivid description of one of the worst wars waged in history. Barbusse, an early memoirist, openly criticizes the French rationale and takes a staunch anti-war stance. In this essay I will show how Barbusse has an ideal of progress and moves towards equality and seeks out an understanding among democracies when there will be no more war. Barbusse depicts the horrors of trench and the bestialities of men by illustrating the realities of modern war. He describes such tings as the vermin and filth, the cold and hunger, the fields of grimacing corpses, the moldy underground, the moneymakers, the traditionalists, and the lovers of supremacy by force. Barbusse asserts, that all of these things in their grimness, that the spirit of war may be defeated and that all men may learn to hate war the way the common soldiers do. ...read more.


The feeling that soldiers were no more than mere ammunition rather than the heroes of folklore and history was painfully disillusioning; Barbusse's novel illuminates this fact. Interestingly, there is a distinct progression in the novel. The war drags on, becomes more intolerable, atrocities mount, comrades die. Juxtaposed with the dull roar of senseless slaughter the soldiers' minds are in constant motion. Every death causes a question; these questions mount up and gain in force. At Dawn, the final chapter, the silence finally breaks. Covered in the suffocating mud of no-man's-land, the surviving soldiers begin to debate one another. One proclaims, "War, you've got to kill war. War, that's what!" Another replies with, "that's a load of claptrap, we've got to win, that's all.' The others started to search. They wanted to know and see beyond the present time. They were trembling as they tried to give birth to a light of will beyond themselves. Scattered convictions sailed around in their heads and vague fragments of beliefs emerged from their lips."5 From these deliberations the soldiers conclude, almost as one man, that winning the war is meaningless. In this last chapter, The Dawn, Barbusse implies that progress is just around the corner, and that people must merely come together and united, create a peaceful world. This feeling is reinforced by the ever-present death of other soldiers, both friend and foe. ...read more.


into the trenches.13 By morning, the party finds themselves in a swamp; the trenches were filled with water and the bodies of men who could not escape the mud and who "died clinging to the yielding support of the earth."14 Of the completely devastating situation, the protagonist tells us: "I used to think that the worst hell of war was the shells; and then for a long [time] I thought it was the suffocation of the caverns which eternally confine us. However, it is neither of these. Hell is water."15 Nevertheless, bad weather was not the only enemy in the trenches, soldiers also had to battle with rats and lice. All of these conditions threatened soldiers' morale and lives. If dying in a painful, horrible way seemed inglorious, death due to disease or the loss of a limb from trench foot would have seemed humiliating. Thus, for many soldiers the reality of war sharply contrasted with their expectations of ardent glory. It was not a glorious adventure in which men went off to protect their nation and defend against potential tyranny, rather, war was a series of inglorious, humiliating and self-defeating experiences. As the war dragged on, the reasons for continuing the war seemed to sink into mud filled with so many dead soldiers. In conclusion, Barbusse's novel critique's the French rationale and takes an anti-war stance, thereby allowing Barbusse's ideal of progress to move forward towards equality, while waiting under fire in a battlefield. ...read more.

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