An Essay Comparing the Ways in Which Owen Powerfully Portrays Physical and Mental Consequences of War in the Poems 'Disabled' and 'Mental Cases'

Topics: Poetry, Psychology, Stanza Pages: 5 (1944 words) Published: November 7, 2012
Compare the ways in which Owen powerfully portrays physical and mental consequences of war in the poems 'Disabled' and 'Mental Cases' Wilfred Owen's poems 'Disabled' and 'Mental Cases' each portray very different aspects of war and its consequences. As their names suggest, 'Mental Cases' is about the psychological effects war had on soldiers, whereas 'Disabled' focuses more on the physical consequences of war. However, in both poems the physical and mental costs are all intertwined, and although they describe very different situations, in many ways the poems are alike in their portrayal of the consequences of war overall. The first ways in which we can compare these poems is by their content, language and tone. In the poem 'Disabled', Owen states the subject's situation in the first line of the poem: "He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark" this line bluntly highlights to the reader that the subject is disabled, and is obviously very handicapped by his injury, because he cannot do anything except 'waiting for dark'. The narrator the informs the reader of exactly what the man's injuries are, in the same direct style - "Legless, sewn short at elbow." This emphasizes how starkly and immediately obvious the man's injuries would be to somebody who saw him. In comparison, the poem 'Mental Cases' starts with the line "Who are these? Why sit they here in twilight?"; which is a far less straight forward line, and reflects how little was understood about the mental effects of war at the time. The physical consequences of war are not as prominent in 'Mental Cases', but they are still mentioned. The most powerful example is when the narrator describes how the shell-shocked soldiers appear: "their heads wear this hilarious, hideous, awful falseness of set-smiling corpses" and the reader comes to understand that their torment is so great they have lost control of their facial muscles. Owen uses the phrase "their faces wear" to show that their facial expressions are not a true illustration of their feelings, but like a mask covering their thoughts. He then eerily compares their expressions to that of "set-smiling corpses"' to perhaps to suggest that these men are almost dead with torment. Another powerful physical description in 'Mental Cases' is "their eyeballs shrink tormented - back into their brains" which paints a picture of how gaunt the men's faces are, and how their mental torture is so real to them, that their eyes physically shrink away from the memories. Overall, physical consequences of war provide the central problem for the subject of 'Disabled', whereas in 'Mental Cases' the subjects' poor physical condition is because of their mental state. This brings us on to the powerful portrayal of the mental consequences of war in these poems. 'Mental Cases' is set in an institute for mentally damaged soldiers, and starts with a stanza questioning how the men concerned have been reduced to such a state of insanity. One very powerful question which describes the men's mental torment is "-but what slow panic gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets?" The oxymoron "slow panic" highlights just how terrible the suffering of the men is as panic is one of the most horrible, alarmed and rushed emotions a person can feel; so to have this feeling drawn out and slow is awful. Owens use of the verb 'gouged' is also poignant as it is a violent action, so it underlines that these men are the victims of something brutal. Another particularly moving line in the first stanza is "Ever from hair and through their hands' palms Misery swelters" This statement is very effective at showing how all-consuming their fear and misery is as it metaphorically compares the misery to sweat; which of course comes out of every pore of one's skin, and the verb "swelters" is adds to the effect as it conveys the clammy fever which is plaguing the men along with their memories. In comparison to 'Mental Cases', the poem 'Disabled' describes less direct...
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