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Compare and contrast the presentation of the effects of war on the individual in Sebastian Faulks’ novel ‘Birdsong’ and R.C.Sherriff’s play ‘Journey’s End

One of, if not the worst, conflict in military history is the First World War. The lack of progress and years of stagnation on the western front directly resulted from the poor and repetitive nature of the techniques used. Poor sanitation meant soldiers were at risk for illnesses like trench foot and millions of rodent and lice infestations. Images of troops living in such filth have become iconic, and the immense human misery of World War I is often connected to them. Literature provides a window into the realities of the trenches during World War I. R.C. Sherriff’s drama “Journey’s End,” written in 1928 and based on his own experiences, paints a vivid portrait of life in the trenches during World War I (Sherriff and Bartlett p 1). Yet, Sebastian Faulks’s subsequently published book Birdsong (2005) presents a fictitious notion based on Faulks’s expertise and comprehension of World War One trench fighting (Faulks p 8). These works are distinct in tone and style because their writers selected various mediums to express the realities of war. A drama follows the characters as they interact with one another via speech, whereas a book may take the reader inside the minds of its characters to reveal their inner thoughts and feelings. The play by R. C. Sherriff and the book by Sebastian Faulks was written at separate times. R.C. Sherriff’s play, published in 1929, was based on his experiences as a soldier during the war. In contrast, Sebastian Faulks’ book, published decades after his birth, was inspired by his grandfather’s wartime experiences and research. However, the conflict’s impact on soldiers has been conveyed well by both authors.

The protagonists in both Journey’s End and Birdsong strive to cope with and escape the horrors of trench warfare by various means, including alcohol, physical altercations, reminiscences of happier times, and even humor. Every person would react differently to living under continual dread of death, and so do the characters. The protagonists, Stanhope and Stephen, in “Journey’s End” by R.C. Sherriff and “Birdsong” by Sebastian Faulks, are portrayed in several ways. Their leadership skills, how they are presented, the impact of the war on them, and their complicated relationships with women are all factors. Sherriff relies on his recollections, whereas Faulks uses reports; therefore, the disparity between the two writing genres and the historical periods in which they were produced might alter the overall depiction of the characters. The audience’s impression of the characters could change.

The physical burden of war on the protagonists of both stories is vividly shown. “He is well looking, more from beautiful characteristics than the healthy good looks of Raleigh,” we are told of Stanhope upon first seeing him (Sherriff and Bartlett p4). His complexion is browned from months spent outdoors, yet he still has a bluish cast and heavy circles under his eyes. Indeed, the consequences of war may be seen in some of these characterizations of appearance. Stanhope has been having some sleep issues, as we discover. As Osborne begs Stanhope to go to sleep, Stanhope responds, “sleep – I can’t sleep.” (Sherriff and Bartlett p 73) For another, when Osborne once again brings up sleep, Stanhope screams, “Sleep! Don’t expect me to waste time sleeping. ” The “black shadows beneath his eyes” must result from Stanhope’s lack of sleep.

Similarly, the conflict has had a tangible effect on Stephen Wraysford’s body. When Jack Firebrace first meets Stephen in Part 2, he describes him as follows: “Jack saw a guy with black hair that was growing grey at the sides, he had a thick mustache that concealed his top lip, and wide brown eyes that peered thoughtfully at him.” He may have been anywhere between the ages of 25 and 40. The war is to blame for these changes since Stephen is described as having “black hair” and “Stephen raised probing eyes” in the novel’s early pre-war sections. In addition, we learn that Stephen is just 20 years old (Faulks). The conflict has altered Stephen’s look, as shown by the available evidence.

The structure of Faulk’s Birdsong enables us to see how the War affected many people across many generations. Faulks uses a variety of recurring themes and ideas to bridge the gap between the novel’s 1914–1918 setting and the current day. The lingering effects of the War imply that history should never be forgotten, and this is the central lesson of Birdsong. in contrast, the actions in this play are divided into three acts that occur over four days. Show I open with a single scene, followed by Act II with two scenes and Act III with three. Hence, as the play progresses, the scenes become shorter. As we near the finish line, the action picks up speed, and the men’s anticipation of the impending attack causes tension to build on the bench. It illustrates how much waiting there was during the conflict and builds suspense as viewers wait for a specific event.

Journey’s End depicts war’s detrimental effects and terrible circumstances on Stanhope and his troops. Stanhope is a committed cop, yet he is also mysterious. This drama uses structure and language to demonstrate how combat affects forces and the changes Stanhope experiences while serving his country. The 1900s saw cheerful, carefree, and laid-back living. Towns were bustling with vitality as people went about their daily lives carefree. Then, as the battle broke out, shock descended. All the males vanished, leaving towns, villages, and cities in ruins. Rationing started, and people soon realized that contrary to what they had previously believed, war was not amusing or a game. People would go to the theater to be entertained. So, the grim imagery presented in the drama Journey’s End differed from what audiences had anticipated. English, which is both formal and aggressive, is used in Journey’s End. It creates the impression of poetry and romantic language, but not inherently romantic. Sherriff’s portrayal of the characters is responsible for this sensation.

Faulks uses the effects of war on the characters in Birdsong to explore the concept of “how far men may be degraded,” a theme throughout the novel. Being unique is what makes us human. During his three days of relaxation, Jack thinks about how each soldier might have been outstanding if it weren’t for the ‘shadow of what awaited them, were interchangeable,’ an analogy to how the War was governed and how the troops were reduced to numbers (Faulks). Stephen’s card game with the guys and his declaration that He would prefer a “malign providence than an indifferent one” shows that the guys are looking for some kind of predetermined destiny for themselves inside the War (Faulks). Tipper’s “iris lost all brightness and feeling of life” when the rounds landed near him, as described by Faulks during an intense bombardment. An individual’s eyes symbolize their uniqueness and have been called the “window to their soul.” Tipper has lost his humanity due to the war, as suggested by Faulks’ depiction of the dimming of his eyes.

In “Journey’s End,” Sherriff uses the basic foundations of his craft. As a play is primarily a visual experience, he does this by having his actors physically embody the roles they portray. With stage instructions like “his eyes are wide and gazing,” he evokes the audience’s intended response from them—in this example, shock and dismay at the death of his friend. This technique is used often throughout the play, such as when Sherriff explains how the actor responded by saying, “Stanhope turns furiously at Raleigh,” signifying that Stanhope’s patience had finally run out. A fight was about to erupt (Sherriff and Bartlett, p68). The audience can plainly see the hero’s inner conflict on each occasion.

In place of visual representation, birdsong uses graphic imagery. As opposed to “Journey’s End,” where Mr. Raleigh is described as having “been there, sir. We are given a realistic description of how Stephen’s “hand was going in towards the man’s lung” and how “his blood went up the inside of Stephen’s uniform” when Douglas is hurt in “Birdsong” after he gets shot in the back. Both his face and hair were covered with it. Although the text conjures up visuals that are far more powerful than those in “Journey’s End,” this is likely because the stream-of-consciousness format makes it easier for us to connect with the event itself. The blood “had a unique smell, not unpleasant itself,” Stephen noted in his head. It’s more poignant to have a sensory experience than to see a play because “it was fresh; it was like the smell at the rear of a butcher’s shop.”

Sebastian Faulks uses poetic language and devices to convey mood and give his descriptions greater force and creativity throughout the book. Also, he employs symbolic language to enlighten or remind the reader of specific important details subtly. The report of the home where the Azaire family resides at the beginning of the book serves as an illustration of this. It is a “strong, formal,” according to Faulks, a structure that has “unseen footsteps” hidden underneath it (Faulks p 9). These descriptions give the house characteristics similar to those of its owners, including strength and mystery, but they also imply unspoken intrigues. This foreshadows the boat ride on the River Somme, where he creates a steamy, sensual, indulgent ambiance, heightening the suspense that a covert event might be about to take place inside this building (Faulksp 8). In a book of this nature, when the reader otherwise cannot hope to fully comprehend the reasoning behind the acts of the persons involved, creating authentic suspense or mood is crucial.

Sherriff employed language to convey the position of the different soldiers, their personalities, their various occupations, and their common bond—the war—to the audience. The language also serves the purpose of reflecting the status of the characters. All police officers, except Trotter, speak English with excellent grammar and clarity. The less intelligent men don’t. These men’s omission of the letter “h” makes this clear. Some unique terminology also indicates the differences in education. The words “sarabridges” and “lorst” used by Mason reveal his lack of education.

The struggle between innocence and experience is covered in the birdsong novel. Change is frequently portrayed negatively in “Birdsong”: Europe shifts from a state of tranquility and harmony to chaos and death (Faulks). But Raleigh’s character develops in Journey’s End. The only time change is detrimental is when we fail to recognize or capitalize on the gains or losses associated with it. When Raleigh first joins, Osborne looks after him and tells him about life in the trenches. But, at the end of Journey, we see this expanded in the topic of comradeship. Thus, we can see how experience and youth differ because, to Raleigh, this situation is “romantic,” whereas it is not to Osborne. This is particularly evident when Raleigh refers to the trenches as “silly,” emphasizing his childish words, while the men are “frightfully furious” at the calamity in their trench.

Throughout the play, Sheriff makes use of nature to set the scene. He contrasts the good (nature’s innocence) and the evil (human-made evil) by using the “moon,” “trees,” and “birds” to try and bring some normalcy to the lives of the soldiers (war). In the first chapter, Faulks emphasizes the natural beauty and peace of the Somme, which are subsequently devastated by the war (Faulks p 8). In a later chapter of the book, amid the conflict, Faulks refers to a “cloudless sky.” This is symbolic because it shows their separation from God and suggests that God may be embarrassed by what humanity has accomplished. Because clouds are frequently associated with the skies and are thought to provide consolation, saying the sky is “cloudless” might be seen as a distancing statement from God (Faulks). It seems as if nature is powerless to save us nowadays.

Before the tragedy of war, Stanhope and Wraysford’s characters are revealed before the tragedy of war in Journey’s End and Birdsong. Even though Journey’s End doesn’t show us Stanhope, before the war, Sherriff skillfully used Raleigh to paint a picture of who he was in his youth. One sees that Raleigh is a happy, patriotic guy who can’t wait to join the military and fight for his nation like his boyhood idol. Stanhope’s statement to Osborne that he was “Keen to come out here” indicates the feelings of many patriotic warriors at the outset of the First World War and may provide light on his state of mind before he came to terms with the realities of war. The war has profoundly affected Stanhope, as seen by the growing animosity between him and Raleigh. He was captain of Rugger at Barford and kept wicket for the eleven,” Raleigh explains, adding context to his picture of Stanhope as a young man. In addition, it’s a great bat. Although the first book provides some background on Wraysford, it is optional to understanding Birdsong. Unlike plays, novels enable authors to add complete backstories via narration rather than dialogue, allowing the readers to learn about one character’s viewpoint even if we never hear their thoughts and emotions. In Birdsong, which may delve deeply into the psychological toll that war has on its participants, I believe R.C. Sherriff utilizes the words and deeds of his characters to paint a picture of how they are feeling. This is a challenging idea to dramatize. Each provides a distinct look at the mechanics of combat.

R.C. Sheriff and Sebastian Faulks investigate how conflict might harm troops in general. A variety of themes and character developments serve to emphasize this. Yet, it is true that people from all different socioeconomic class origins have been affected psychologically and physically by conflict.

Works Cited

Faulks, Sebastian. Birdsong pp. 1-454.

Sherriff, R. C., and Vernon Bartlett. Journey’s end. Paris: librairie gaulon & fils, 39, rue madame, pp. 1–141.


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