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Analysing 'Observe the sons of Ulster marching towards the Somme' and 'How many miles to Babylon?'

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Analysing 'Observe the sons of Ulster marching towards the Somme' and 'How many miles to Babylon?' 'For God and Ulster'. This is what the eight men in 'Observe the sons of Ulster marching towards the Somme', a play by Frank McGuinness want to fight for when they enlist to join the Great War. Jennifer Johnston is the author of the novel 'How many miles to Babylon?' It tells the story of the unlikely friendship of an Anglo Irish upper class boy and a catholic peasant and the episodes of war. Although both pieces of First World War literature are similar in some ways, they differ in others. Both pieces are set in the genre of social realism. They depict real images and experiences of War. Both the play and the novel use a framing technique. They begin in the 'present day', retreat to the past and conclude in the 'present day'. In 'How many miles to Babylon?' the main protagonist and narrator of the novel Alexander Moore tells the reader 'I have no future except what you can count on hours...' ...read more.


We see fear in the men. We see the petrified Moore reliving an experience of war when he cries 'I'm going to die. They're coming at me from all sides'. Pyper is described by Robin Glendinning as '...a sad wreck of a man...' This is a typical description of a man affected by war. Ironically, Pyper who enlisted to die was the sole survivor out of all his fellow comrades. War brings out conflicting emotions in each character. A prime example of this is that of Major Glendinning. On the one hand Johnston presents a rigid, strict military figure, which believes the army must have harsh rules and no exceptions can be made. This is evident when the major shows zero tolerance to Jerry when he went AWOL to search for his lost father. However, on the other hand, we see a compassionate side of Glendinning when he risks his life to end another man's suffering. There are many conflicting views of war presented by Johnston and Mc Guinness. Alicia and Bennett have romantic ideas of war. Bennett refers to the war as '...the show...' ...read more.


In my opinion Alex merely takes a paternal role when he cares for Jerry in this way. There are more references made to the homosexuality of Kenneth Pyper in '...sons of Ulster...' In the opening of 'Initiation' Pyper tells Craig to kiss his finger better when he cuts it when peeling an apple. This could be a sigh of Pyper louring Craig and the apple being a symbol of 'forbidden fruit'. At a production of '...sons of Ulster...' at the Lyric Theatre, Belfast the relationship is made more obvious to the audience when Pyper and Craig kiss on Boa Island. The relationship is made profoundly more explicit in Michael Attenborough's production of the play at the Hampstead Theatre Club in London in 1986 when Pyper and Craig make love on the island, signalled by the transition form stone to flesh and the surfacing of the water imagery. The relationship of Pyper and Craig and the femininity of Pyper are not in a vacuum. McIlwaine referred to Pyper as a 'milksop', to illustrate a feminine quality in him. Moore also says 'He blew his own breath into Pyper's mouth. It was a kiss'. Sectarianism is used more effectively and more abusively in '...sin of Ulster...' The men make humorous remarks when they talk about Patrick Pearse. ...read more.

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