Exploration in the Ways in Which the Theme Heroism Is Presented in “Journeys End” and “Birdsong”.

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  • Topic: Hero, War
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  • Published : March 18, 2011
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Birdsong & Journey’s End

Both Faulks and Sherriff in their realistic portrayals of trench warfare present a new style of hero. These heroes can be related to because of their strengths but also their weaknesses. In order to fully appreciate this, it is important to explore the setting from which these extraordinary men appear. In “Journey’s End” we see Sherriff utilise the very nature of his art form. He does this by making use of his characters physical presence when performing, as a play is essentially a visual experience. His use of such stage directions as “his eyes are wide and staring” convey the desired emotions to the audience, in this case the horror and dismay of the loss of his comrade. Use of this technique is employed throughout the play such as when Sherriff describes the actor’s response “Stanhope turns wildly upon Raleigh” reflecting the end of his patience and the start of a conflict. In each case the emotional turmoil faced by the hero is easily visible to the audience. Birdsong employs graphic imagery in place of visual representation. Where as in “Journey’s End” we get the description of how “Mr Raleigh’s been ‘it sir. Bit of shell’s got ‘im in the back”, in “Birdsong” when Douglas is injured we are provided with a vivid description of how Stephen’s “hand was going in towards the man’s lung” and how “his blood ran up the inside of Stephen’s uniform. It was on his face and in his hair.” The mental images the text produces however are far much more striking than those in “Journey’s End”; the fact that we are given a stream of consciousness lets us relate to the actual experience a lot more. Stephen’s mental note that the blood “had a peculiar smell, not unpleasant itself …it was fresh; it was like the smell at the back of a butcher’s shop” makes the sensory experience we envisage more poignant than the visual experience of a play. This technique contrasts to the prose of Birdsong. This is not to say that a play does not allow this as well. The visual representation and use of stage directions describe the minutest of details of a character such as “the palour under his skin” of Stanhope and the freshness of Raleigh as “a healthy looking boy”. However it is impossible for Sherriff to fully portray the war on stage. Therefore the harsh realities of trench warfare are shown in snippets or occur off stage such as “flying fragments of shell whistle and hiss and moan overhead” The audience merely sees the effects of trench warfare yet are never allowed to forget the nightmare which exists outside of the dugout. Faulks provides stark and invoking visions of the events Stephen and other characters witness. We see this when he writes “Bodies started to pile up and clog the process” or the imagery of “the Scots came out of their burrows like raving women in skirts” and finally “ they saw men from every corner walking powerless, into an engulfing storm.” However, although the method of presentation is different, the message presented in both texts is the same. War is grotesque, the conditions awful and the men are forced to fight in what can only be described as a nightmare. Both writers use of imagery provides an all-encompassing view of the nightmare of war. Therefore, both Faulks and Sherriff create heroes and both are remarkably similar, ordinary men faults anyone can associate with. As we can see in both “Birdsong” and “Journey’s End” there are no traditional heroes. No characters are flawless and all are examples of real humanity. Their hero status is awarded by the fact they are real men able to cope with the most horrendous of times. From the outset of “Journey’s End”, a discussion begins between Osborne and Hardy on the nature of Stanhope’s heroism. Osborne sums up the sacrifice and fortitude Stanhope has shown when he says, “he came straight from school when he was eighteen…he’s never had a rest. Other men come and go here and go home again ill, and young Stanhope goes on sticking it, month in month...
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