In 'Journeys End', R.C Sherriff presents a realistic picture of life in the trenches and an effective portrayal of the horrors of war. How far do you agree with this statement? Include particular reference to setting, tone, characterisation and plot.
'Journeys End' by R.C Sherriff is about what life was like for a company of officers in the last few months of the First World War. The play covers six days and is set in a dugout on the front line. This essay explores the realism and the effective portrayal of the horrors of the First World War in 'Journeys End.' R.C Sherriff wrote the play ten years after the war ended in 1928. The gap in time, coupled with the chosen medium of the theatre could distort the true horrors of the war for the audience.
The chosen medium for Sherriff's story is the theatre; this has benefits as well as problems. The staging can show the dim lights and the flashes. It can play the sounds of the trench fighting and No-man's land, however the stage can only show the detail up to a certain extent. For example the stage director could not have live rats running around on stage, but on page 22 Trotter does say "have your revolver to shoot rats," and the stage director could have rat noises playing in the background, such as scuffling and squeaking. This would stimulate an image in the audiences mind as to what the trench was like. Through the audience using their imagination they will get a much better idea of the horrors.
The play is only staged in the dugout, and although the characters go up to the trenches, the audience never get to see it. Instead of this, sound and light effects are used so that the audience have to imagine what the trench is like. This is effective because the theatre would never be able to show the terrible conditions; the dead bodies, the stench, the rats and most of all the disgusting deep mud that was at parts knee-deep. By stimulating an image the audience will have a much better idea of the horror. By only having the dugout and the audience looking onto it gives the effect of the audience being an extension of the stage. This is effective in the way that the audience is passively waiting like the soldiers who are passively waiting. It also gives the audience the feeling of claustrophobia as they sit in the dark waiting for something to happen.
R.C Sherriff subtly describes the trenches and the dugout throughout the play. Page 49 states "...companies on our sides will give way." This is effective because Sherriff combines a brief description of the trench system in the dialogue, the example used also builds a sense of expectancy for the audience because they know what is going to happen before it does, and therefore suspense is created. Although it can be said that the descriptions are effective, in some ways they are superficial and don't portray the horrific reality of trench warfare as well as some of Sherriff's contemporaries do, however, it may be the most effective when targeting the public who thought the war was glorious. 'A Dead Boche' is a poem by Robert Graves, which contains a description of a dead body. "With clothes and face a sodden green, /Big-bellied, spectacled, crop-haired, /Dribbling black blood from nose and beard." This section uses many more descriptive words than 'Journeys End' as well as using the onomatopoeic 'dribbling,' and the alliterative 'black blood' and ' big-bellied,' the effect of the poetic language is to draw a vivid picture of the disgusting details. Although the staging of 'Journeys End' can evoke the reader's imagination, the dialogue of it is not poetic and thus does not conjure the same direct effect through language as Robert Graves' poem does.