How far and in what ways is Pat Barkers reader invited to challenge the accepted norms in Regeneration ?

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How far and in what ways is Pat Barker’s reader invited to challenge the accepted norms in Regeneration ?

Barker’s approach to the First World War in her novel Regeneration contrasts with the way in which it is presented in history books: it mixes fiction with reality, allowing the latter to become more powerful to the reader as we become emotionally attached to the characters and their plight. As we delve into each point of view, we learn to look at the war differently, not as a serie of distant events and battles but as an experience that changed all of society thoroughly. Our beliefs are thus shaken and we come to view the war in a different manner.

Each character in Regeneration has a different, individual belief on the war, whether they have personally experienced it at the front or not. Its consequences were deeply felt by all of society, and the complexity of each character’s point of view is partly due to the fact that it was impacted by gender, age, social background, war experience and so on. Exploring such a wide array of opinions allows the reader to look at the war on a personal level rather than having a detached outlook. For example, Prior faces a dilemma between his personal, traumatic experience of the war leading to a desire not to go back and a willingness to carry out his duty. An interesting aspect of his point of view is that his reluctance to go back to the front is never explicitly stated, but manifested through his early mutism and his avoidance of a clear answer when asked: “ ‘Do you think you’re fit ?’ ‘I’m not a doctor.’ “. This is contrasted to a will to prove his virility and self-worth, both to himself and his father: “When all this is over, people who didn’t go to France, or didn’t do well in France - people of my generation, I mean - aren’t going to count for anything. This is the Club to end all Clubs.” Indeed, underneath Prior’s facade is a sense of unworthiness, emphasized by his belonging to the lower class which he is self conscious of. We know that he was discriminated at the front because of his background: “It’s made perfectly clear when you arrive that some people are more welcome than others.” This quote highlights the social intricacies of the front which are often overlooked as the relationship between soldiers is usually left unexplored. It is likely that Prior wanted to become a war hero in order to overcome what he considers to be a handicap. Thus, the complexity and duality of his point of view serves to demonstrate the complexity of the war experience itself. His point of view greatly differs from Sasson’s, who continuously denounces the war throughout the novel. It is interesting to contrast their two backgrounds: Sassoon, with his “clipped aristocratic voice” that is “always cold” and his “bored expression”, manifests an intimidating sense of aloofness and confidence which is likely partly due to his belonging to the high class. He sometimes appear arrogant: “His demeanour was very much that of a keen, and basically decent, head boy who knows he’s let the headmaster down rather badly, and is probably in for ‘a bit of a wigging’, but expects it to be alright in the end.” but his motivations for going back to the front are at least partly altruistic, fueled by guilt and concern for his men (though Rivers said that he suspected that he was almost motivated by “a very deep desire for death”). As such, he opposes Prior in several ways. This is also different from Sarah’s point of view, as she is, as all people who have not gone to the front, unaware of the horrors of the war. To her, it presents her with an opportunity, work in a munitions factory, which is something that she previously could not have hoped for. This comes to change as she spends more time with Prior and witnesses for the first time the damage that the war has done: “If the country demanded that price, then it should bloody well be prepared to look at the result.” Upon discovering what the country had tried to hid, she deeply feels the injustice that was done to the soldiers who had sacrificed part of themselves at the front. Each opinion is different, and serves to show the war in its complexity and ambiguity. As such, the reader’s opinion also becomes more balanced and nuanced as we overcome the sense of distance that we may feel towards the First World War.
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When we study the war, we often not only overlook soldiers’ personal stories but also do not debate its purpose. Because we only study the facts and events that took place,and that the war, having finished almost a century ago, is not forgotten but less actual and debated than it was at the time, we do not wonder whether it was necessary or not. However, in Regeneration, much like the characters in the novel, we come to challenge and question the war and its necessity. Several characters at Craiglockhart experience of the war is so horrible that it ...

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