Compare and contrast the ways in which Owen and Auden present the alienation of the speakers in "Refugee Blues" and "Disabled"

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Compare and contrast the ways in which Owen and Auden present the alienation of the speakers in “Refugee Blues” and “Disabled”

                James Kim

        Owen and Auden both war poets explore the sense of alienation, which was brought about by war. Owen takes on the theme of exclusion in ‘Disabled’ by converting a fine and healthy young individual into a physically disabled soldier of World War I. He faces alienation from a non-handicapped society, as he no longer has the charm of the past. Auden’s ‘Refugee Blues’ is also based on alienation but is more about the excluded human races that were stripped from their human rights in World War II. By basing the poems on past events in history, the readers feel a sense of helplessness, incapability to help, and sympathy for the excluded individuals as both poems strike a poignant chord with the readers. Each poet uses very distinct techniques to carry out the same theme of alienation.

        In ‘Disabled’, Owen portrays a picture of a man being alienated because of his disability. Having physical disabilities downgrades one’s masculinity and self-esteem and the soldier in the poem seems to be suffering in paranoia as he envies and constantly looks upon the “strong men that were whole”. He has lost all his self-confidence because he is physically incapable of carrying out actions, which normal people can do. He notices how the women “touch him like some queer disease”. He realises how abnormal he is seen by others, even by women who once he could so easily woo. He feels very out of place.

        On the other hand, in ‘Refugee Blues’, the reason why the German Jews feel isolated is because they have no identity. They only have “old passports”, which are pointless and unrecognized in Nazi society. They were considered by the public eye as dead and ignorable. The Jews do not simply give up and show glimpses of hope as they visit the “consul”. However, they are always turned down. “If you’ve got no passport, you’re officially dead” is the response the Jew gets in the consul. In the committee, he is told “to return next year.” When he attends the public meeting, he is criticized with rants about “steal(ing) our daily bread”. It is like the public does not even acknowledge their existence and relevance in society. Every authority in the nation treats the Jews differently in terms of politeness. However, they all result in the same negative manner. Auden shows contrast in the way the consul, committee, and public meeting treats the Jews to provide the readers with the extreme racial discrimination present in Nazi society. The contrast in each authority’s manner towards the Jews also proves how helpless and restrained the Jews are as they are not even guaranteed basic human rights.

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        In order to further emphasise on the extremity of racial discrimination against the Jews, Auden compares the lives of Jews with that of the Christians. Reference to ‘daily bread’ shows Christian imagery as it is part of the Lord’s prayer: “Give us this day our daily bread”. “They will steal our daily bread” refers to the tension between the Christians and Jews with the Christians having much better standards of lives in society. Contrast is the key to highlighting alienation to the readers. Even from the first stanza of ‘Refugee Blues’ contrast is made as it says:


        “Some are ...

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