Owen displays the reality of war, atypically shown in 20th century literature. By divulging the secrecies and terrors of brutal warfare, he exposes the superficiality of valor and false heroism; through his vivid writing, he opens the eyelids of his readers and discloses, “the old lie (Owen, Dulce et Decorum est, 25). Owen breaks idealism, replacing it with illness, physical injuries, exhaustion, fatigue and personal hells. Contrasting the Hemingway code hero, Owen displays the reality of war, which diverges from the epic and heroic displays of war displayed through classic characters like the code hero.
The dead beat soldier symbolizes classic 20th century anti-war sentiments. Flesh torn and maggot eaten, skin writhing, crack and molested from heat; the dead beat soldier is presumably one of the most wretched people, and one with the most deathlike traits. Death written in his eyes, he walks fruitlessly with no aim; for one who walks with no purpose is the living dead. Both mind and spirit have been broken, the pieces of body that seem to drop off fall in line with what is already lost; this is the result of war. The soldier can be looked at as the living dead because although he is alive, he is dead in mind and spirit and heart. “He dropped,- more sullenly that wearily, lay stupid like a cod, heavy like meat (Owen, The Deadbeat soldier, 1-2).” “Just blinker at my revolver, blearily; didn’t appear to know a war was on (3-4).” The deadbeat soldier reverts to a fetal like mental state, incapable of noticing or responding to the world around them. This state is not so much a rupture in brutish nature, but a reversion back to nothingness and unknowingness for protection; rather both mind and body shut down from weariness. The dead beat soldier no longer responds to their environment; it’s as if their reality no longer exists. They are not worn from war, but rather circumstance and loss of hope, lives and chance. “It’s Blighty, ‘praps, he sees; his pluck’s all gone, dreaming of all the valiant, they aren’t dead: Bold uncles, smiling ministerially (10-12).” “Maybe his brave young wife, getting her fun. In some new home, ...
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...and the Young, 7-11).” Isaac is betrayed by his father and murderers that he may have more glory symbolizing the government and soldiers.
The reasons why the men chose to go into war are shown as foolish and not self-controlled. “It was after football, when he’d drank a peg, He thought he’d better join- He wonders why (Disabled 23-24).” “Smiling they wrote his lie: age 19 years. Germans he scarcely thought of; all their guilt, And Austria’s, did not move him. And no fears of Fear came yet. He thought of jeweled hilts For daggers in plaid socks; of smart solutes; And care of Arms; and leave; and pay arrears. This was the “old lie (28),” imbedded in the young men. “There was no glory, little or no honor; Some cheered him home, but not as a crowd cheers a goal (Disabled, 37-39).” Owen tries to discard the “old lie (28),” through his war poems and through smart prose creates a plausible contradiction to classical ideas of heroism and romanticism.
Owen, Wilfred. Wilfred Owen: Collected Letters. Ed. Harold Owen and John Bell. London: Oxford UP, 1967.
-----. Wilfred Owen: The Complete Poems and Fragments. Ed. John Stallworthy. 2 vols. New York: Norton, 1984.
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