Class, Exile and Trauma In Rebecca West’s "The Return of the Soldier"

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In Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier the continual coverage made by the media of the war during its occurrence and the infectiousness it had on those back home is portrayed through the eyes of her narrator, Jenny. The use of a female narrator wasn’t uncommon nor new but the way West includes her feminist values into Jenny without making it central to the story is fascinating. Up to this point in history, coverage of a war had never been read about as it was during this period. Because of this advancement in getting news out had improved drastically from the last war, people back home were more aware of what was occurring from reading a newspaper without having to wait for letters from their loved ones out on the front lines. West took this information in full stride and wrote about the emotional turmoil it causes the women back home waiting for their men to come back. She makes mention by focusing and bringing to attention the elements of class, exile from being deployed and the trauma that war causes on the soldier.

The approach West uses to capture her readers is through the voice of her narrator Jenny, in which her voice gives the novel an authentic feel of the torment that the women went through while waiting for their men and loved ones to return. “As the English struggled to come to terms with the wounded soldiers in their midst, medical literature provided one kind of narrative recovery; fiction provided another” (Freedman 384) and this is exactly what West conveyed in her novel, a lifelike fiction story about three women dealing with class, exile and trauma. She brought to the reader these elements that before had not been dealt with because the coverage of war had always been minimal and usually outdated, the...

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...s novel. It is known that Chris is the cause for the trauma but the way that Jenny, Kitty and Margaret all dealt with his return were unusual and different to each others. As Kibble wrote about the novel, “the effects of the war on the male psyche have been well documented: as well as the dehumanizing sense of estrangement, of discontinuity between the self and the role required of the soldier” (557) can be used to remember that it’s not always about the soldier but those who take care of him when he returns. Up to this point war had never been covered in the media as it was and previously women weren’t as effected by it as they were now. West’s use of Jenny as the narrator allowed the reader to sympathize and understand what three women had to deal with when their soldier returned from the war having to deal with a loss of memory that opened up a can of emotions.

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