Irony of War Exposed in Dulce et Decorum, Regeneration, and Quiet on the Western Front
Many of the young officers who fought in the Great War enlisted in the army with glowing enthusiasm, believing that war was played in fancy uniforms with shiny swords. They considered war as a noble task, an exuberant journey filled with honor and glory. Yet, after a short period on the front, they discovered that they had been disillusioned by the war: fighting earned them nothing but hopelessness, death and terror. They had lost their lives to the lost cause of war, which also killed their innocence and youth. They were no longer boys but callous men. Wilfred Owen's poem "Dulce et Decorum Est", Pat Barker's novel Regeneration, and Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, all portray the irony between the delusive glory of war and the gruesome reality of it, but whereas Owen and Sassoon treat the theme from a British point of view, Remarque allows us to look at it from the enemy's.
The poem "Dulce et Decorum Est", an anti-war poem by Wilfred Owen who was an English footsoldier, states that it is not sweet and fitting to die a hero's death for a country. Right off in the first line, Owen describes the troops as being "like old beggars under sacks" (1). This metaphor indicates that the men are battle weary and suggests reluctance. They also have been on their feet for days and appear to be drained of youth as they "marched asleep" (5) and "limped on, blood-shod" (6). Overall, in the first stanza, Oundjian 2 there seems to be a tension between old and young because it shows how the impact of an endless war has reduced these once energetic young men to the point where they could be referred to as "old" (1), "lame" (6) and "drunk with fatigue" (7). In the second stanza and at the beginning of the third, Owen makes a gruesome portrayal of a gas attack that painfully expresses desperation, suffering, and powerlessness. He uses "An ecstasy of fumbling" (9) to describe the men grasping for their gas masks during the attack. The fact that "ecstasy" is used with "fumbling" is surprising and disturbing but suggests the difference between the society's beliefs about the war and the actuality of it. Images such as "flound'ring like a man in fire or lime..." (12), "He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning." (16), "His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin" (20), "Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs" (22) hurls the pain of war and death into the readers face. By the end of the third and last stanza, the irony of the title has completely unfolded:
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori. (25-29)
Through vivid imagery and compelling metaphors, Owen wants people to stop lying about how "sweet" and "fitting" it is "to die for one's country".
Pat Barker's 1991 novel, Regeneration, represents her...