The Pressures of War in Journey's End

The Pressures of War in Journey's End

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The Pressures of War in Journey's End

The First World War provoked many different reactions in the people
affected by it, particularly the soldiers, which Sherriff seeks to
explore in "Journey's End". He uses Hibbert to show the way in which
some soldiers reacted, but which was frowned upon by all others, and
then presents the opposite view of Stanhope, who, despite being the
stereotypical 'perfect' soldier, still has his moments of fear and
self-doubt.

Clearly, both the officers and the men involved in World War I lived
in conditions of extraordinary hardship. The men refer to the poor
food, the rough sleeping conditions and the rats, of which there are
"about two million", according to Hardy. There is also a torturous
routine of inspections, patrols, raids and duty in early hours of the
morning. The men also have to cope with the ever-present shadow of
death. In the background, there is a constant rumble of guns and heavy
artillery, although it is the silence which affects the men more, as
they do not know what is happening - it is more of a threat than the
guns.

Most of the men, although Hibbert is the significant exception, are
brave and dutiful, but their methods of coping with the challenge of
warfare vary according to their temperaments. The play opens with a
conversation between Hardy and Osborne, in which they seek to block
out the atrocities occurring all around them by concentrating on
seemingly mundane, irrelevant things, such as earwig racing. The
extraordinary type of morbid humour which situations such as the First
World War seem to provoke shows through whilst they are discussing the
relatively serious matter of the bombing which they are under.

OSBORNE: Do much damage?

HARDY: Awful. A dug-out got blown up and came down in the men's tea.
They were frightfully annoyed.

OSBORNE: I know. There's nothing worse than dirt in your tea.

Clearly, there are many things worse than 'dirt in your tea', and one
would expect an adjective that was rather stronger than 'annoyed' to
describe the men's reaction to the fact that they were being bombed.
Osborne tries to put things in perspective and see the beauty in
situations to cope with the pressure he is under. He tells Raleigh to
"always think of it like that, if you can. Think of it all as - as
romantic. It helps." Osborne epitomises a certain type of cultivated
middle-class reticence and self-possession. Like Stanhope and Raleigh,
he attended private school, which taught him the traditional and
typical English values, which can be summed up in the phrase
"stiff-upper-lip". He maintains an apparent steady clam in the face of

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danger, and is more controlled and reserved in his speech than most of
the others. He submerges himself in quiet pursuits, such as gardening
when he goes home on leave, and reading, such as "Alice's Adventures
in Wonderland". This has an ironic parallel which he highlights when
he shows Trotter what he is reading, as the pointlessness of the book
echoes the nonsense of the war. When Stanhope tries to confide in him
about the way the war makes him feel, and how close he thinks he is to
breaking down, Osborne attempts to change the subject, as he believes
that the less you talk about things, the better. He clearly is not
used to talking about his feelings, and the war put many middle-class
men, who had always been taught that they should maintain an outward
façade of strength, in the same position. He talks about the sunset,
and a show at the Hippodrome, rather than dealing with Stanhope's
problem, which he fears, if concentrated on, will cause Stanhope to
collapse.

Stanhope is introduced before the audience actually sees him, through
the conversation between Hardy and Osborne. He is courageous and
driven, 'a long way the best company commander we've got', but he is
reaching the end of his tether. The turning point which he identifies
was 'that awful affair on Vimy Ridge', after which the strain has
become maddening. He has turned to drink for comfort, which is ironic
in view of the fact that he was so against it whilst at school. The
strain is showing through this, and his increased irritability and
alienation from the others. Whilst talking about Raleigh's sister, he
says: 'She doesn't know that if I went up those steps into the front
line - without being doped with whisky - I'd go mad with fright.' He
realises the extent of his dependence on alcohol, and dislikes this
reliance, which he, understandably, sees as a weakness. He seems to
discharge his mounting fear and distress partly through a combination
of calculated hardness and anger. He also works hard to block out all
that is happening around him, taking his job far more seriously than,
for example, Hardy, and not allowing himself to rest and therefore
have time to contemplate what is happening to him.

TROTTER: Cheer up Skipper. You do look glum!

STANHOPE: I'm tired.

OSBORNE: I should turn in and get some sleep after supper.

STANHOPE: I've got hours of work before I sleep.

OSBORNE: I'll do the duty roll and see the sergeant major and all
that.
=================================================================

STANHOPE: That's all right, Uncle. I'll see to it.

He feels that he is beginning to lose his grip on reality, and asks
Osborne 'D'you ever get the feeling that everything's going farther
and farther away?' He is troubled by the possibility that he might be
losing his mind. One way in which his inner struggle expresses itself
is through his increasing emotional dependence on Osborne, which
Osborne quietly reciprocates. He is very worried, even to the point of
paranoia, that Raleigh will write to his sister and tell her about his
drink problem. The ambivalent and wavering relationship between
Stanhope and Raleigh help dramatise their suffering, and highlight his
disintegrating character and struggle to remain in control of his
experience. Raleigh's recollections of him from the pre-war period,
and his reaction to the changed Stanhope, help to emphasise how much
Stanhope has been affected by the war. Raleigh's nave inclination to
idealise his situation, as was the case with many 'new' soldiers at
the front, provokes Stanhope, as a hard-bitten and war-weary realist.
The pathos of Raleigh's situation arises from the fact that he
scarcely lives long enough to cope with the discovery that war cannot
be dealt with in terms of the simplicities of school life. Stanhope's
tender compassion for Raleigh in the final scene, the only time in the
play when Stanhope uses Raleigh's first name, is a poignant revelation
of his true sensitivity and humanity beneath the shell of relentlessly
tough-minded dedication to duty with which he protects himself for
much of the time.

Raleigh, as he is only at the front from Monday evening until his
death on Thursday afternoon, has little opportunity to develop beyond
the unquestioning boyish idealism and enthusiasm that he brings with
him to the front. However, he still crams an awful lot of experience
into that short time - he experiences the effects of fear through the
"wind up" that makes him want to yawn before the raid, the
consequences on Stanhope of the relentless pressures of front-line
existence, and to feel on Osborne's death the horror of the absolute
and sudden loss that war inflicts on its participants. Sherriff uses
Raleigh's presence in the play to dramatise the inevitable tension
between normal human conduct in the face of great loss in the face of
death and loss and the grotesque emotional distortions forced upon
soldiers by the unnatural and extreme conditions of warfare. He is
horrified by the fact that the officers enjoy their meal and cigars
'when Osborne's - lying - out there', which seems natural in the
context of normal experience, but he has not learned yet that the
strangeness of their situation demand that men find ways of dealing
with the war that seem callous in peace-time.

Trotter represents the working-class aspect amongst the officers in
the war. He maintains a permanently cheerful good humour, and his
pre-occupation with creature comforts, such as food. The other
officers, particularly Stanhope and Osborne, view him condescendingly,
saying him that 'all his life Trotter feels like you and I do when
we're drowsily drunk.' However, there are hints that he is more
anguished than he seems:

STANHOPE: I envy you, Trotter. Nothing upsets you, does it? You're
always the same.

TROTTER: Always the same, am I? (He sighs.) Little you know.

Despite the fact that he complains about a variety of inconveniences,
and is irritatingly garrulous at times, he is nonetheless dependable
and steady in the face of danger.

Hibbert is a significant exception to the other officers, as he is a
coward. Although fear was accepted by the soldiers as inevitable,
actual cowardice was treated with disgust, and cowards were often
regarded in some ways as 'degenerate', morally and physically unfit
for manly existence. Hibbert is a 'funky man', and has some of the
other characteristics of a degenerate. He is devious and deceitful,
lacks sensitivity towards others, and is pre-occupied with the kind of
sex associated with 'saucy pictures' and Soho. Stanhope refers
scathingly to his 'repulsive little mind', and says that he makes him
sick. He calls him a 'worm', and even the usually sympathetic Osborne
agrees that 'It's a slimy thing to go home of you're not really ill,
isn't it.' Sherriff's portrayal of Hibbert is psychologically
accurate, and also sympathetic insofar as he allows Hibbert some
dignity in his defiance of Stanhope and in his agreeing to Stanhope's
insistence that he must try to 'stick it out'. A thoughtful response
from the audience is also provoked by Trotter's sympathy with him.
However, the prevailing view is that Hibbert is a weak and repellent
man, whose reaction to the pressures of war is symptomatic of a lack
of moral fibre and wholly unacceptable. There was simply no room in
the battlefield for that kind of mental collapse in the face of one's
duty.

Sherriff presents many different ways in which men reacted to the
pressures of the First World War, all of which are representative of
the reactions of some men.
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