The first World War - Sample Essay
Both poets explore a form of exclusion and are similar in the respect that the exclusion was brought about by war. They have face exclusion due to similar circumstances and this is outlined in both ‘Disabled’ and ‘Refugee Blues’ respectively. Wilfred Owen explored the theme of exclusion by taking a fine young man who was fit, healthy, attractive and full of exuberance for life, and turned him into a disabled soldier who lost various limbs in the First World War. The exclusion he faces is from normal, able-bodied society.
He can no longer perform the acts that made him seem so appealing in the past and he is excluded from everything that previously defined him and made his life worthwhile. W. H. Auden also based his theme around exclusion. However he focussed more on the aspects from The Second World War in his poem, when a number of races were excluded from their basic human rights on a national and worldwide scale. In both cases the people who had been excluded have felt that they have lost their humanity, due to the way they are treated like items, who can just not be involved or turned away without a second glance.
The sympathy that is drawn from the poem appeals to the reader’s feelings and emotions; you feel sympathy towards the people being excluded. Nevertheless the reader also feels as if they cannot or do not have the ability to help them; this is because the actions that were taken occurred in the past. Therefore the reader is also feeling a sense of helplessness as they are incapable of facilitating the character’s need to be included. The poems challenge the reader’s prejudice towards certain people. The poems show us that these people are desperate to become part of normal society again, and we should not disregard them so quickly.
The poems remind us that we all have one thing in common, despite our subtle differences, and it is that we are all human and all one species. Therefore we should be united in that respect. In Wilfred Owen’s poem, ‘Disabled’, there is a narrator who interjects with the thoughts of the soldier at regular and sometimes irregular intervals. The narrator proves to be an important part of the poems structure and form due to the fact that his perspective shows how other people view the soldier and gives us an idea of why he feels so excluded from everyone.
Because we gain the perspective of the soldier too to show how he views himself, which gives us as the reader a more personal outlook of his life. The comparison of this when we see his life from his own view, he seems to only look upon his old days when he was a popular young man who wooed the women and proved to be quite the sportsman. He does this as he does not wish to dwell on the present day, but would rather look back upon his finest times and recall the memories that made him the most happy, although this enhances the poignancy of his current predicament.
This is contrasted to ‘Refugee Blues’ which holds a first person perspective in on their exclusion and represents a more personal base for the narration. Returning to ‘Disabled’, the person in the poem is left alone for most of his days, in which he is supplied with time. When he is left alone, he tends to dwell on the past and the emptiness of the present this gives him time to think and reminisce about the war and how he has ended up being a cripple in this society which used to regard him as a hero. When he has time to reflect he remembers his proud moments before he went to war.
The lines ‘One time he liked a blood-smear down his leg / After the matches, carried shoulder high’ show when he was able to play and participate in sports. It highlights the comparison between when he was bleeding after scoring a goal and when he was bleeding out in a foreign country during the war. A further ironic contrast is how he used to get carried on the shoulders of the people who hailed him to be a hero for scoring a goal. Now he is carried not by people supporting him, but a wheelchair due to his disability. He sits wondering how his life has gone from something so positive to something so negative.
The use of contrasting perspectives in the past and present, both his own and those of his fellows, heightens the horrific sense of unredeemable loss which ensures pity in the poem. The disabled man also faces exclusion from the reader. The narrator conveys a proportional amount of what he is trying say and expresses his feelings for him, so he is not personally connecting with the reader, someone else is speaking for him and it is if he cannot put his own thoughts across for the reason that he is not happy with his life, so why should he bother speaking about it.
This can be associated with the fact that he is not able to put himself to bed; he needs people to do it for him. This can co-exist with the fact that the narrator is putting out some of his thoughts for him, it shows how vulnerable he is. Just as he needs someone to help him to be put to bed, he needs someone to speak for him and transfer his thoughts out to the reader. This gives a gloomy and defeated image of physical disability, suggestion that the physical and emotional scars effectively render life a living death. Nothing of value in his former life is returned, and any similarities that persist are merely ironic echoes.
His innocence before he joined the army is also shown in the start of the fifth stanza when it says, ‘Smiling they wrote his lie; aged nineteen years. ’ Firstly, it shows that he had lied about joining the army; he was determined to keep up his image of being a masculine, courageous and brave man. Hence the reason he lied about his ages. The innocence is shown as he did not quite know what he was signing up for when he first applied to go to war. His innocence is then dashed cruelly by the injuries that he suffers during the war and when he arrives back home, his masculine image has been lost due to the injuries he has suffered.
In the first stanza in the fourth line, ‘Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn’ there is a slight oxymoron shown. The words ‘saddening’ and ‘hymn’ are contradictory to each other. Hymns are usually joyous and bring people together; whereas he is using hymns to show how the soldier is excluded by the fact that he can no longer move and take part in activities that the children do. This represents that the children are where he used to be in life, and now that he cannot return to that moment, he is envious of them and wishes that he can be back to that much simpler time and have his limbs back so he can join the ways that he used to be.