The Juxtaposition of the Normal and the Abominable How do the Authors

The Juxtaposition of the Normal and the Abominable How do the Authors

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The Juxtaposition of the Normal and the Abominable How do the Authors
illustrate this description of World War One? Pay Particular attention
to the Details they Highlight and the Methods and Language they Used
to do so?

'The Juxtaposition of the Normal and the Abominable'

How do the Authors illustrate this description of World War One? Pay
Particular attention to the Details they Highlight and the Methods and
Language they Used to do so?

'In the trenches behind the lines, men and women struggled to hold on
or recreate fragments of an ordinary life - a letter from home, a pot
of jam, a kiss - to remind them of their own humanity'…

Today I saw pictures of Britain's brave soldiers leave for war in
Iraq. As a nation we are able to watch a war unfold before us in a way
never experienced before. The constant pictures of the death,
destruction and disgraceful nature of war help people to see the
atrocities of war. In many wars of the past the horrors of war have
not been available to the public due to censorship and less
communication; I draw a contrast to the British people in World War
One who also watched their soldiers leave in glory to fight a war with
a dream of seeing the world and the glory of war, armed with little
more than the old lie 'Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori'. Whilst
with such vivid images of 'our boys' it is hard for us to forget about
the men who are fighting, in World War One so many soldiers left with
aspirations to see the world and got as far as France - their destiny
to die in a muddy field. The Iraqi people today are experiencing a new
and dangerous life as their nation is gripped with war. One thing
often forgotten about as we watch on BBC News24 is that people are
still living in Baghdad and life goes on for Iraqi people. Ben
Macintyre in 'A Foreign Field' depicts how the lives of the peoples of
France continued as their nation, like Iraq, was ravaged by war:

Ben Macintyre cleverly highlights the way that, whilst the war brought
such horror to the people of Villeret, life still continued and there
was some form of normality. Normally Macintyre uses a quote from a
diary or record to bring meaning to help his audience understand how
people felt. The book has a journalistic style and, as with
journalism, the author tends to stick to facts; for most of the book
Macintyre's style is descriptive but largely unromantic.

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It is because
of this somewhat emotive style of writing that Macintyre so
effectively falls back on quotes from primary sources to add depth to
our understanding of how people felt:

'Those who, as we came north a fortnight ago, looked on us had their
deliverers, are now thinking we are broken reeds. They are crying and
asking us to save them and their homes … a ghastly business. Poor
creatures.'

It is a credit to him that, rather than try, as so many have, to
poetically or romantically describe the monstrous events of the war,
Macintyre has, throughout the book, found relevant quotes which paint
a picture in the first person far more effectively than a description
written second hand by a 1990s author would. For example, the book
tells of how the village of Villeret housed the wounded from the Somme
- rather than write about it himself, Macintyre uses quotes.

'The Mairie, the classrooms, the teachers homes and the church were
all transformed into field hospitals'

wrote the mayor - a witness to the horror of the Somme

This is anchored by the memories of a German officer Ernst Junger:

'The surgeons carried on their sanguinary trade at operating tables.
Here a limb was amputated, there a skull chiselled away, or a grown in
bandage cut out. Moans and cries of pain sounded throughout the room…'

It is Macintyre's effective use of quotes (such as these) throughout
the book that makes the juxtaposition of the abominable and the normal
so dramatic as we notice that in fact the abominable became the normal
in many ways.

Some form of normality, found amongst the abominable, was vital for
the villagers' mental survival during the occupation. For much of 'A
Foreign Field' the normal is perceived as a lifeline to counteract the
unbelievable devastation people faced. My opening quote describes
effectively how a sense of normality in the face of such atrocity
brought comfort. When Georges received a letter from his loved one
Jeanne his response was 'At last I have heard something from you after
nine months of silence. Now I can live again.' The description of his
wife's letter at the front was not an emotive piece of writing. The
facts are stated. However when we read his response there was little
need for Macintyre to make a mountain of the importance of the letter
as Georges has already said it all - 'Now I can live again'. The way
that Macintyre has created such an emotional book out of what is
essentially a group of facts and journalistic, if somewhat
descriptive, writing is by his clever use of what had already been
said by people who lived through and saw the atrocities and it is
through these accounts that we also see how, after a while, a sense of
normality could be felt in the village of Villeret.

On page 99 we hear how 'Digby and the others cautiously re-emerged
from their hiding places' and 'a precarious air of normality
returned.' Despite the fact that the village was now under German
rule.

The obvious narrative of 'A Foreign Field', which highlights the
juxtaposition of the normal and the abominable, would be the story of
how love blossomed alongside killing:

'Claire was ready to go into labour when the English bombs began
falling on Villeret.'

The quote encapsulates Macintyre's theme of the juxtaposition of the
normal and the abominable. He uses careful diction in this sentence
that subtly but effectively forces us to acknowledge the normality and
the horror side by side.

This theme for me highlights how Macintyre's style can be cleverly and
subtly bent to fit his dramatic or poetic intentions. Whilst most of
the book is very matter of fact and not overly dramatic this story
line makes the book. Whilst throughout the book the facts are laid
down and the feeling will generally come from a first person account,
Macintyre allowed himself to slip into an irresistible romantic
storyline with the story of Claire and Robert. Page 147 sees Macintyre
begin to write his novel - a love story in which war cannot break up
the lovers and the juxtaposition of the normal alongside the
abominable shines.

'As the 'corpse fields' of the Western front grew ever more abundant,
Robert and Claire talked avidly about the life they would make
together after the war'

Rather than talk about how there was a juxtaposition of the normal and
the abominable Macintyre has ensured that it is a theme that readers
would take away from the book by changing his tone and his style.
Until this point 'A Foreign Field' had not been a story, but a set of
facts joined cleverly together to create the circumstances where a
love affair blossomed but also the circumstances where a talented
writer can manipulate his factual style to make a truly beautiful love
story. Macintyre skilfully and quietly makes this love story seem more
romantic as he continues to reel off sad fact after sad fact about the
war and the experiences of Villeret. The real quality in his writing
is that he never leaves alone the fact that Claire and Robert's love
affair survived the hardship and the horror of the Great War. He
masterfully mixes in the factual quotes and knowledge that we become
accustomed to throughout the book with story of Digby and Claire,
refusing to let us forget how, alongside the terror and murder and
pillage, normality and love and children thrived. How lucky Macintyre
was with the quote by Frederic Manning:

'In the shuddering revulsion from death, one turns instinctively to
love as an act which seems to affirm the completeness of being'

Once again Macintyre, as he does throughout the book, has used a
quote, someone else's words, which encapsulate the feelings which he
could have tried to convey had this quote not have had such dramatic
and poetic strength.

In the poem 'Futility' Wilfred Owen draws upon the same juxtaposition
of the normal and the abominable. The poem is about a soldier who is
in fact dead - an atrocity; and how his comrades would still talk
about how he always slept a lot and if anything would wake him 'the
kind old sun will know'. The other soldiers continue as if he is alive
and think, in despair or desperation, that perhaps the sun will still
wake as the last time 'gently its touch awoke him'. This idea is the
juxtaposition of the normal such as having a friend who was always
awoken by the sun alongside the absolute desperation in dealing with
the fact that their friend is in fact dead. The poem also draws upon
the most natural of juxtapositions that was witnessed in World War One
and was noted in both books - the inevitable turn of autumn to winter,
winter to spring and so forth. The particularly apt change was that
from winter to spring, spring being a season of new life and rebirth.
When faced with a war on your doorstep the spring would smell less
sweet. However it seems that the world goes on, war or no war. We see
it today and in 'A Foreign Field'. Lieutenant Rosenhainer noted 'We
felt spring's arrival everywhere. With a magical hand it had produced
the most luscious green, violets and spring flowers were already in
bloom.' In Futility Owen talks of how the sun 'wakes the seeds'.

The natural juxtaposition of war and suffering alongside spring is
clearly defined in the poem 'Spring Offensive' also by Wilfred Owen.
At the moment relating to 'the May breeze', 'wasps and midge' or
'buttercups' is not difficult. Spring can be felt and the excitement
of a new season and new life never ceases to excite me. This poem
shows the juxtapose beautifully. I cannot imagine today standing
looking over such beauty knowing that I am about to die for a cause I
may not believe in. Owen builds the scene as the soldiers 'raced
together over an open stretch of herb and heather' in the sun to face
'the surf of unseen bullets'. The use of the word surf is clever, with
the idea of nature and a waves surf - a surf which breaks when it hits
the shore (or a body). The use of the word surf highlights Owen's
deliberate use of the juxtaposition of the beauty of spring and the
horror of war. Owen talks ironically about a 'warm field' in Spring
offensive - can a field where death is profit ever be described as
'warm'? Once again after describing an idyllic day in the world, Owen
goes on to talk of 'hell's upsurge' - we know the scene to be
beautiful yet to Owen it is hell - a juxtaposition of how beauty can
seem to tease when faced with nearly certain death.

The chapter 'Born to the Smell of Gunpowder' has particular relevance
to the idea that normality might exist alongside the abominable. The
village had always known war and conflict and the title is from a
nineteenth century song sung by schoolchildren:

'Children of a frontier town,

Born to the smell of gunpowder'

In a village born to the smell of gunpowder perhaps the idea of people
just getting on with life in the face of horror might not seem such a
great thing as it does to an audience reading 'A Foreign Field'. For
example Marie Sauvage gave birth to a German soldier's child and the
village continued - the village had got used to conflict and lived
with it. Perhaps the idea of the normal co-existing with the
abominable was not such a rarity in the village of Villeret.

Throughout the book there are other examples of how normality
continues in the village of Villeret. The character Jeanne was always
a very strong character opposed to the idea her normality being broken
with war - in her story we see Jeanne fight a battle to keep some
normality in the face of the war. Jeanne refusing to let go of her
precious horse Flirt (which she was even willing to kill to avoid the
Germans getting it) is an example of how the villagers had to fight to
keep some normality in their lives, 'to remind them of their own
humanity'. Keeping hold of Flirt and hiding the great beast gave
Jeanne the feeling that life could go on alongside the frightful war.
The horse reminded her of her husband and when faced with the
uncertainty of war keeping her horse meant she had something she had
always had - something she considered normal, and something which
would give her strength in the face of uncertainty.

The beauty of the book is from the way that Digby still loved Claire
when he died - he was truly in love and love (or normality) had
overcome the war and even death could not dent it. Digby's noble death
in his uniform is not written up. We hear from witnesses as you would
in a newspaper report and it is not over the top - there is no
pathetic fallacy and we don't hear how Claire whimpered as he died,
because we don't know that she did. However what we take from the
death is the fact that Digby still loved Claire. Alongside the
atrocious war something which the Germans could not take away from the
village of Villeret had been born and that life continued despite the
war raging and the village no longer being there.

The romantic idea of love overcoming the war is not emulated in the
poetry of the front line. The dramatic juxtaposition seen in the poem
'Exposure' by Wilfred Owen is summed up in the sentence 'We only know
war lasts, rain soaks and clouds sag stormy.' This quote paints a
picture of the horrors of war and how perhaps for the soldiers it
became just normality, that in fact the juxtaposition of the
abominable and the normal was a phenomenon that had little effect on
the soldiers after days and weeks and months in the trenches. Clouds
and rain are classic things for English people to complain about -
here they are placed alongside a war in a way that makes war seem like
little more important to them than the bad weather. For soldiers the
things that made life seem normal, such as the letters they sent home
or letters from home, were often censored and in fact a search for
normality, when faced with death and war, led to a colourless and
empty existence. To convey this feeling Owen uses language like
'dull', 'cloud', 'melancholy' and 'grey' - all of which have negative
connotations. The quote 'We cringe in holes, back on forgotten dreams,
and stare, snow dazed'. This is normality to these soldiers but there
seems no future and the abominable has in fact become the normal; the
ever present, ever changing weather, something I find a comfort in
when I'm away, is in fact as much the enemy to the soldiers as the
shells area.

"We pause over half-known faces. All their eyes are ice"

This sad and accurate picture of the war is perhaps, I feel, the most
appropriate juxtaposition of the war and the normal - the idea that
the war becomes normal (they 'pause' as if to continue) but the faces
of their friends are unrecognisable. The use of the word 'ice' has
connotations of the coldness of the war and the word 'all' highlights
that in fact this wasn't just one compatriot but a collective - no
longer recognisable. In a similar way to the poems the war seemed to
become normal in Villeret - people got to know the German soldiers,
continued with jobs and in a way the war seemed no longer as important
the longer it continued. The war for the soldiers in 'Exposure' was as
normal after months of war as it became to the people of Villeret. And
perhaps the soldiers in Spring Offensive, taking a few moments to have
some normality and take in the midges and wasps, were in fact doing
the same as the people of Villeret did throughout 'A Foreign Field'.
It was their attempt to keep normality in the face of what seems the
inevitable in war. Whilst it is more immediately noticeable for the
men in the poetry -

"Knowing that their feet had come to the end of the world"

- hidden behind so much defiance of Karl Evers and the beauty of a
couple's love in the face of war, the village of Villeret was in fact
another victim to the horror of war. In defiance of Evers the
villagers kept the British soldiers and in defiance of Karl Evers, to
keep normality, Jeanne Dessin kept Flirt; this juxtaposition of some
kind of normality in the face of the war was similar to the normality
found by soldiers in the arrival of spring - little more than
clutching at straws. The people of Villeret defied Evers to the last
and it was this defiance that led in fact to the destruction of the
village. Evers hated Villeret's defiance and made a point of
desecrating the village. Just like the soldiers putting off death for
five minutes to take in the beauty of spring, the villagers constant
defiance of Evers was merely biding their time before the inevitable
destruction of war won. Most of the villagers never returned to the
village and therefore the village, like soldiers in trenches, died. An
example and warning of war can be found in the daughter of Robert and
Claire Digby, Helene: was her life ever normal? After all 'before she
was an hour old the battlefield child sparked conflict.' Did the child
born out of a so-called normality amongst death and destruction ever
really know normality?
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