Discuss the usefulness of Dover beach as a key to understanding McEwans aims in Saturday

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“discuss the usefulness of ‘dover beach’ as a key to understanding mcewan’s aims in ‘saturday’”

While the poem ‘Dover Beach’, written by Matthew Arnold in 1867, is directly important through its importance to the plot, it also serves a rather less visible but equally important role in hinting at some of the key messages which McEwan conveys in ‘Saturday’. As well as proposing some of the central themes of the novel, the use of the poem also introduces arguments and debates to the reader.

To understand the relevance of the poem to the destination of the novel, one must first understand the central message of the poem: ‘Dover Beach’ presents a world where religion is obsolete, where the certainty provided by the religious teachings has been overhauled by scientific and political advances; a world where the only love and trust, which are precarious concepts in themselves, can be relied upon. References to the past (“Sophocles long ago/Heard it on the Ægæan”) imply that Arnold feel that this ‘eternal note of sadness’ has been a long time coming. The overall tone of the poem is similar to that of W. H. Auden’s “September 1, 1939”: it offers hope to the reader, the possibility of salvation, but it is awash with negativity at the state of affairs, and uncertain about the future of the world. These ideas resonate strongly throughout ‘Saturday’. The final scene of the novel shows Perowne staring contemplatively from his window, “timid” and “vulnerable”, and then retreating to the nominal comfort and safety of his wife, reflecting both the fear and hope expressed by the final stanza of the poem. In this way, the poem is very apt in mirroring the sense of ‘zeitgeist’ which McEwan conveys throughout the novel, a sense of unpredictability and fragility in modern life.

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The poem may also have a more superficial relevance the Iraq War, which is an omnipresent issue in ‘Saturday’. The last lines of the poem (“Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,/Where ignorant armies clash by night”) is an allusion to a passage in Thucydides’ account of the Peloponnesian War, where the attacking army, fighting on a similar beach, became disorientated by the darkness and ignorantly killed many of their own. This clearly evokes numerous incidents of friendly fire in Iraq. Here McEwan introduces a debate: Perowne, through logical process and experience with the Iraqi professor he treated, has ...

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