Explore Barker's presentation of women in "Regeneration".
Regeneration is a novel largely based upon the male experience of war , however Barker's use of predominantly confident and modern women represents the seismic effects the war had on the female population, while also exploring how the war was an emasculating experience for men. As the jingoistic illusions of what war was like were weakened by the harsh realities of war for the men who signed up to fight, they began taking on more maternal roles, whereas, some women transformed into independent strong-minded individuals, taking on traditional male roles such as working in munitions. Barker has chosen to focus strongly on the roles of women, as she wants to show how they experienced World War One, as their role is sometimes obscured in literature because they did not have direct contact with the enemy. The fact that Barker has used very dominant women suggests that they are important to her, and she certainly explores deeper than 'girls' as entertainers for soldiers, sweethearts and those who handed out white feathers to young men who had not enlisted.
However contrasting with the rest of the female characters the VADs are the only women who are in traditional domestic roles and have typical female attributes. Initially we are introduced to the VAD'S (Voluntary Aid Detatchment) when they rush over to Burns who is being violently sick. This is at the very beginning of the novel, Barker uses this structure to show how the roles of women changed, by later in the novel devolping other characters who have dramatically changed lifestyles since the war began.
'A Couple of VADs ran across to him, clucking, fussing, flapping ineffectually at his tunic with a napkin, until eventually they had the sense to get him out of the room.'
Barker uses figurative language to compare the VADs to chickens, as if they were useless creatures, simply placed to make a fuss over people and unnecessarily panic. This imagery is used to provide the reader with a picture of these bustling women, feebly attempting to do all they can to help Burns. Barker portrays the women as inadequate with the men as it is only the superior male, Rivers who can offer comfort to Burns. Although this could be conveyed as womanly attitudes being the most important as Rivers acts in a motherly manner towards Rivers. This challenges traditional notions of manliness when the men choose to sign up, however the men must face societies judgement that it is decidedly unmanly to suffer a breakdown, thus Rivers taking on a maternal role to cure Burns.
Similarly Barker uses Rivers narrative viewpoint to demonstrate the changing roles of men, towards more feminine attributes.
'...relationship between officers and men that was...domestic...caring. As Layard would have undoubtedly said, maternal .'
Barker uses Layards opinion to show the emasculation of the men over the period of war. This shows a massive irony that the war was not what the men believed it to be, full of pride and patriotism they walked into a living hell, only to result in a 'feminine' breakdown. These lines are important because they highlight the immense ironies of World War 1: the ultimate act of male sacrifice ends in domesticity. Barker uses lexis such as 'domestic' and 'caring' to emphasise this feeling of femininity. Here they are seen as being inferior, as to a man it is shameful to be compared to a woman. As during World War One men who were feminine may be judged as being homosexual were ostracised and punished under homosexuality laws.
One of the central female characters, Sarah Lumb is first introduced when she is in the Cafe with her friends Lizzie, Madge, and Betty. All four of the women have a 'slightly yllow tinge to their skin,' showing they were 'munitionettes.' This was the name given to women who worked in munitions during the war. Munitionettes during World War One took the places of their husbands,...
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