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Tim O'Brien's 'The Things They Carried' and Pat Barker's 'Regeneration'. Compare and contrast the ways in which both authors present the futility of war in their text

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Introduction

'If war is hell, what do we call hopelessness?[i]' Compare and contrast the ways in which both authors present the futility of war in their text. In his collection of short stories, 'The things they carried' Tim O'Brien attempts to explore the 'bloody eccentricity[ii]' of Vietnam- a war dominated by uncertainties and unlike any war which had gone before. The stories connect a group of fictional soldiers called the alpha company in their journey through the war. The Vietnam War divided America for ten years and lead to a confusing political and social split within the country. A generation was shaped in a country where business men 'could not agree on even the most fundamental matters of public policy[iii]'. When America lost the war in 1975 the blow was immense to the nation and caused an intense backlash against the patriotism and ideological complacency which had characterised their national 'superpower' identity. Vietnam became the forgotten war as 'Evil has no place... in our (American) national mythology.[iv]' In the other text, Pat Barker's 'Regeneration' the backdrop is another iconic war, the First World War. The First World War also had a remarkable effect on society and how war was viewed for a long time after its aftermath. The total destruction caused by the technological advances in warfare had never before been seen and there effects were devastating to a society who still thought of war as 'one big glorious cavalry charge[v]'. 'Regeneration' highlights these effects as its plot centres upon WHR Rivers, a psychologist at Craiglockhart war hospital for the shell shocked. Through his character Barker explores the feelings those who couldn't cope with the intense pressures of the war, or like Siegfried Sassoon believed it morally questionable. In Craiglockhart, Barker creates a setting which fully underlines the futility of war. Characters who are 'shell shocked' dominated the novel and the act of setting 'Regeneration' amid the confusion of those who have 'given up' on the war emphasises the terrible effect the apparent aimlessness ...read more.

Middle

The character of Burns serves no logical plot purpose within 'Regeneration' other than as an emotional foil for River's conflicting moralities. Barker uses the plight of Burns to show the reader the intense pointlessness of his suffering and what Sassoon is protesting against. By using the third person narrative Barker can objectively and clinically describe the affliction which emphasises the sheer horror of the situation to the reader. Medical language like 'radius[xxxii]' and 'ulna[xxxiii]' makes the experience seem more impersonal and creates a bigger emotive effect for the reader when Barker switches to the personal thoughts and feelings of the characters involved. One critic called 'regeneration' 'An eloquent statement against the madness of war[xxxiv]' I believe that 'capturing her characters' voices and moods[xxxv]' through emotive language is how Barker conveys of the madness of war. Barker also expresses the futility of the war by the emasculation of her characters. Before World War One shell shock was known as 'hysteria' an ailment commonly associated with women from its Greek root 'hystera' which means 'womb'. Many of the shell shocked patients in 'Regeneration' find the idea of being cured by sharing their feelings emasculating and hopeless. They feel 'weak' some have inadvertently made themselves paralysed or mute, unable to cope with the uselessness and the horror. War was seen as an active, manly event. 'The big adventure.[xxxvi]' However, when World War One turned out to be a 'passive[xxxvii]' war it created the existence of shell shock symptoms such as mutism and paralysis. I believe these symptoms show uselessness of the war and the reactions of the soldiers to the reality of it. Barker uses the irony of being stuck in 'no-mans land[xxxviii]' being bombed to 'buggery[xxxix]' to further highlight the futility of the war and how it was only done because it was standard procedure. In contrast in 'The Things They Carried' the characters deal with the stresses and futility of war in a completely different way. ...read more.

Conclusion

Things They Carried' Flamingo, 1991 P.144 [xxii] Times Literary Supplement [xxiii] O'Brien, Tim 'The Things They Carried' Flamingo, 1991 P.32 [xxiv] O'Brien, Tim 'The Things They Carried' Flamingo, 1991 P.150 [xxv] O'Brien, Tim 'The Things They Carried' Flamingo, 1991 P.144 [xxvi] O'Brien, Tim 'The Things They Carried' Flamingo, 1991 P.105 [xxvii] O'Brien, Tim 'The Things They Carried' Flamingo, 1991 P.107 [xxviii] O'Brien, Tim 'The Things They Carried' Flamingo, 1991 P.106 [xxix] O'Brien, Tim 'The Things They Carried' Flamingo, 1991 P.105 [xxx] O'Brien, Tim 'The Things They Carried' Flamingo, 1991 P.13 [xxxi] O'Brien, Tim 'The Things They Carried' Flamingo, 1991 P.13 [xxxii] Barker, Pat 'Regeneration' Viking, 1991 P.19 [xxxiii] Barker, Pat 'Regeneration' Viking, 1991 P.19 [xxxiv] Shepard, Jim 'Gentlemen in the trenches' The New York Times, 15th may 1994 http://www.nytimes.com/books/99/05/16/specials/barker-eye.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&oref=slogin [xxxv] Picardie, Justine, The Independent. [xxxvi] Barker, Pat 'Regeneration' Viking, 1991 P.47 [xxxvii] Barker, Pat 'Regeneration' Viking, 1991 P.56 [xxxviii] Barker, Pat 'Regeneration' Viking, 1991 P.139 [xxxix] Barker, Pat 'Regeneration' Viking, 1991 P.139 [xl] O'Brien, Tim 'The Things They Carried' Flamingo, 1991 P.35 [xli] London review of books. [xlii] O'Brien, Tim 'The Things They Carried' Flamingo, 1991 P.43 [xliii] O'Brien, Tim 'The Things They Carried' Flamingo, 1991 P.43 [xliv] O'Brien, Tim 'The Things They Carried' Flamingo, 1991 P.43 [xlv] O'Brien, Tim 'The Vietnam in me' The New York Times, 2nd October 1994 http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/09/20/specials/obrien-vietnam.html [xlvi] Barker, Pat 'Regeneration' Viking, 1991 P.15 [xlvii] Patricia Waugh, Metafiction: The Theory and Practice of Self-Conscious Fiction. New York: Methuen, 1984. [xlviii] O'Brien, Tim 'The Things They Carried' Flamingo, 1991 P.142 [xlix] Bruckner, D.J.R, 'A Storyteller For a War That Won't End' The New York Times, 3rd April 1990 http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/09/20/specials/obrien-storyteller.html?_r=1&oref=slogin [l] O'Brien, Tim 'The Vietnam in me' The New York Times, 2nd October 1994 http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/09/20/specials/obrien-vietnam.html [li] Pepinster, Catherine Time out [lii] Kemp, Peter The Sunday Times [liii] O'Brien, Tim 'The Vietnam in me' The New York Times, 2nd October 1994 http://www.nytimes.com/books/98/09/20/specials/obrien-vietnam.html [liv] O'Brien, Tim 'The Things They Carried' Flamingo, 1991 P.78 [lv] O'Brien, Tim 'The Things They Carried' Flamingo, 1991 P. ...read more.

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