A comparison of the ways in which Pat Barker and Sebastian Faulks present different attitudes to war in the novels 'Regeneration' and 'Birdsong'

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A comparison of the ways in which Pat Barker and Sebastian Faulks present different attitudes to war in the novels 'Regeneration' and 'Birdsong'

The Great War stirred up many emotions during as well as after the event, which led to the expression of many attitudes born from experience, both direct and indirect. The authors of Regeneration and Birdsong, Pat Barker and Sebastian Faulks, each explore a range of these views in their novels. In being such a complex, yet popular, topic in literature, the tendency is towards simply focussing on the negative consequences of World War One. However, by exploring a well-known topic in two unique ways Barker and Faulks reveal a deeper and more varied set of attitudes to the Great War.

In the openings of both Regeneration and Birdsong Barker and Faulks reveal the protagonists' strong attitudes towards war, however the methods which they use to represent these views differ hugely. Barker chooses to open her novel with the real historical document of Sassoon's declaration and the effect of this is to firmly base the reader in the era of the Fist World War. The military style language in the declaration expressed through such phrases as "wilful defiance" and "aggression and control" is direct yet poignant, as the reader can appreciate that these words would have had a real effect when they were first written by Sassoon. In contrast the romantic opening of Birdsong in Amiens, with "the picturesque feature of Saint Leu" and the "fishermen, slumped at their rods", is confusing, as this is not a typical opening for a novel about the First World War. The effect of starting the novel in such a unique way provokes some of the same feelings of interest and curiosity felt when reading Sassoon's declaration, without even mentioning the war. Despite the obvious differences between the openings of these two novels, they both evoke a sense of uneasiness and a feeling that painful memories and experiences are about to be unlocked in both the characters and the reader.

The notion of their being complex hidden depths to the views of the protagonists in their novels is further explored through central characters such as: Faulks' Jack Firebrace and Barker's Billy Prior. Faulks presents Jack as one of his simplest characters but through this guise the reader is able to relate to Jack throughout the entire novel as he does not lose the sense of normality which many of the other characters do. On the arrival of the first letter from his wife Jack, "could not bring his mind to bear on the distant world her handwriting suggested", showing that Jack's character takes the attitude that his home life and the war are completely separate and should not come into contact. Billy Prior's character is presented by Barker in a slightly different way as his unresponsive approach to his interviews with Dr. William Rivers leads him to say; "you will never make me feel". This simple sentence conveys to the reader that Prior has distanced himself so much to cope with the war that he has lost the ability to feel and this technique helps Barker to show the reader that Prior's aggressive and often dislikeable temperament is his way of expressing his disgust of what is occurring on the battlefields of France.

The idea that war was often seen by new recruits as similar to the games they used to play as boys links closely with the attitudes of duty and honour which are apparent in both novels through the characters such as Ellis and Michael Weir in Birdsong and Sassoon's loyal friend Graves in Regeneration. Faulks deliberately introduces both Ellis and Weir to the readers with descriptions of their boyish looks; Weir with his "disarrayed hair" and Ellis the "red-haired subaltern". Through this technique of precise descriptions Faulks is able to show the gradual erosion of these characters as Ellis' "gingerish hair had started to recede" and similarly Weir gradually loses his hair. Drawing the reader's focus towards the accurate descriptions of the charters looks and personalities mans that Faulks can bring home to the reader that war was definitely not the heroic game in which most of the recruits believed they would be participating in. The attitude of being a good officer and gaining respect and honour is high up in the men's list of priorities at the beginning of war as Barkers' character Robert Graves shows through his desire to stay in the war and fight it to the end. However, the sense that this attitude has been thoroughly tested by the horrors of war can be seen through Graves' insistence that once you put the uniform on you "sign a contract" and when questioned by Rivers on his actual views on the war, he becomes agitated is his thoughts on Sassoon's declaration and his deeply embedded sense of duty are in conflict. Through focussing on individual characters' responses both physically and mentally to the realisation that war is not a game Barker and Faulks provide a deep insight into the conflicting attitudes to war that many of the men experienced.
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Ironically, although the war was not a boyhood game, Faulks and Barker are quick to show that war definitely involved young men who were little more than boys. In basing his novel during the war, Faulks is able to give a first hand account of characters' such as; Tipper "smiling madly" before he goes into battle and Goddard who "could not stop vomiting" when he goes out to recover the bodies of the dead men "He was only nineteen". To just as great effect Barker uses her setting of Craiglockart to show how the deaths of the young ...

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