How do the writers of World War Literature respond to the theme of death?

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Sarah Lister 13KW

How do the writers of World War Literature respond to the theme of death?

The theme of death is a prominent one in the context of war literature. It is an important concept to include when considering the nature of conflict and there are several devices which writers use in order to attempt to convey this theme to the reader. The landscape of the piece often plays an important role in literature with the use of pathetic fallacy being sympathetic to the writers emotions and intentions. The harsh bitter realism of war can be used as a shocking device to expose the true effect of the conflict and this often leads to the questioning tone that is present in some of the literature. However, as well as this harsh reality there often appears to be a ethereal theme to some of the texts which adds to the idea that the reader will have difficulties to ever fully understanding the concept of death during the first world war.

The landscape of the literature is a way of showing how nature is sympathetic to the emotions of the writer. It adds to the depth of the literature, creating a more profound tone to the texts as it presents the idea that the theme of death in war time is consuming everything, including nature. In Isaac Rosenburg’s ‘Returning, We Hear the Larks’ the landscape is an essential part of the poetry with ‘This poison blasted track opens on our camp’ conveying that the war is not escapable, along with ‘sombre the night is’. The language used is harsh, showing the idea of death and destruction and particularly the use of night seems to provide the idea that the writer is lacking direction, lost in the concept of war. This is echoed in Richard Aldington’s ‘Farewell to Memories’ with ‘the colourless winter dawn hovered mournfully over a desecrated land’ there still remains this uncertain tone that the ‘colourless winter’ is hovering, almost suggesting that it may stay or it may not. This is similar to the idea of death, it was an uncertain factor of the war and therefore a battle for survival, shown by Rosenburg: ‘And though we have our lives, we know/ what sinister threat lurks there.’ This uncertainty and loss of direction can be seen in other World War One literature such as Vera Brittain’s ‘Testament of Youth’ where, in response to her fiancé Roland’s death she writes: ‘Yet I cannot feel very acutely-I don’t feel anything but an utter, utter weariness’. The female response to this theme is different as they are experiencing the loss from the home front rather than trying to survive within the nature of war but it seems to have an ‘elongated’ theme to it. It suggests that this loss of direction will remain for a long time and this can also be seen in Charlotte Mew’s ‘The Cenotaph’ with ‘There is a grave whose earth must hold too long, too deep a stain’. The perspective of women on the theme of war seems to support the idea of long term loss and that memories of the event will continue for another generation.

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Often, literature from the first world war can offer the reader a part of the harsh, bitter realism that came from the war, that would otherwise be lost in the metaphorical nature of some literature from the war. Aldington’s ‘Farewell to Memories’ shows the vulnerability of the youth that experienced death due to the conflict of the war: ‘That was the symbol of the youth of a generation, lines of crosses’. This poignant phrase was supported by other writers of the war, that a generation of men had been taken away by death. Owen’s ‘Disabled’ shows that those young ...

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