Representation of War in literary texts

Essay by hosay_thamanHigh School, 11th grade March 2009

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The twentieth century has been plagued by power struggles between nations which have resulted in wars and loss of life as a consequence. Various composers have represented war and its impact on humanity through their literature. Some present a glorification of war in order to evoke patriotism in their audience. Such a view is presented in Winston Churchill's speech 'Be Ye Men of valor' which was intended to encourage a nation to become engaged in the war effort. Quite alternatively Wilfred Owen's poem 'Spring Offensive' and the album cover of Anarchist punk band Crass' 'the Feeding of the 5000' encapsulate the futility of war and the negative impacts it has on people.

In Winston Churchill's speech "Be Ye Men of Valor" war is glorified to encourage an entire nation of people to become grasped in an ultimate concern which involved defending Britain from invading German forces.

Churchill uses inclusive language throughout his speech ("unless we conquer, conquer we must as conquer we shall", "We must have …..") so that he can engage his audience. Additionally, the elevated language towards Britain and France (e.g.:"invincible confidence in French army") contrasts with the negative language used towards the invading Germans and their "apparatus of aggression". This elevates the superiority of Britain and its allies and evokes patriotism in the listener.

Churchill's use of alliteration in "Apparatus of Aggression" along with the cumulative language used in "the Czechs, the Poles, the Norwegian, the Danes, and the Dutch" creates suspense and conveys the urgency of the situation that Britain is in. It also highlights the nature of the German war effort and emphasizes the importance of fighting the enemy in order to retain freedom and not become like other countries which have been defeated by the Germans.

Churchill is not only speaking to encourage young men to join the army but also to encourage workers to increase their productivity to produce "more aero planes, more tanks, more shells, more guns" required for the war effort. Churchill also uses the rhetorical question "Is it not the appointed time for all to make the utmost exertions in their power?" to entice critical thought in the audience. The Speech is concluded by the use of a biblical allusion "Today is Trinity Sunday….Arm yourselves, and be ye men of valor". This thoroughly connects to the audience, most of whom are Christian, and entices strong feelings of patriotism, encouraging them to become "Men of valor".

A quite alternate representation of war is presented in Wilfred Owen's poem 'Spring Offensive' which highlights the futility and pity of war. Owen contrasts the world of nature with the unnatural characteristics of warfare. Written in 1918, this poem is based on Owen's experience of the spring offensive of 1917. Through this personal experience Owen offers an insight into the atrocities of war and through the use of powerful natural imagery he illustrates the struggles of nature against the war effort. Owen opens the poem with "Halted against the shade of a last hill" to suggest both calmness of the "shade" and the deadly implications of "last". Owen then goes on to use assonance in the line "chests and knees carelessly slept" but then juxtaposes this with the line "But many there stood still" to further highlight mixed feeling that are present among the soldiers where some are "carelessly slept" while others understand the ultimatum of the situation in which they are in.

Owen pays particular attention to detail in his natural images "long grass swirled…murmorous with wasp and midge". This highlights the uneasy patience of the soldiers as they "face the stark blank sky beyond the ridge" awaiting their faith. Auden personifies nature in the line "But clutched to them like sorrowing hands". This along with the peaceful conversational tone of the poem implies that nature is trying to stop the soldiers from fighting. In the final three Stanzas' the pace quickens as nature turns against the soldiers and the "whole sky burns with fury against them". The oxymoron in "Superhuman inhumanities" implies the futility of the glorification of war where the hero and the devil are the same. Owen concludes the poem by powerfully probing into the shame experienced by the soldiers in the last line "why speak not they of comrades that went under". This rhetorical question leaves the readers questioning the purpose of war and entices them to consider its impacts on the soldiers.

Similar anti war views are presented in the cover of anarchist punk band Crass' album 'The feeding of the 5000'. Here war is represented as futile and pointless. Crass makes a powerful statement about war through their confronting image of a withered human hand which is entangled on barbed wire. Below this image the words "your country needs YOU" are printed to parody the famous 'Britons wants you" World War 1 recruitment poster and entice readers to question the glorification of war presented in government propaganda.

The severed hand is the salient point of the image and the background is in shallow focus. This draws immediate attention to the hand which may have otherwise gone unnoticed in a battlefield. The grotesque image along with the enlarged "YOU" highlights the expendable entity in the war, the individual soldier. It also forces the audience to consider the gruesome ways in which death may occur in war and presents a direct contradiction of the so called 'glory of dying for your country' depicted in government propaganda. Through this album cover crass highlights the futility of war and the unnecessary death that occurs. It evokes critical thought in the viewer and encourages them not to become involved in the war effort.

Sources-This essay is a critical analysis of the representation of war and the texts considered were;"Be ye men of valor" (speech) Winston Churchill"Spring Offensive" (poem) Wilfred Owen"The feeding of the 5000" (album cover) Crass