Generals Die in Bed

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TOPIC: “It is the way in which Harrison creates a sense of the mood and atmosphere of life in the war zone that holds our attention most strongly.”

Harrison’s novel, ‘Generals Die in Bed’, tells a stark and poignant story of a young man sent to fight on the Western Front. The novel is powerful and although the language is quite graphic and intense it also gives the reader a feeling of sympathy towards the soldiers. The story is told through the narrator’s eyes, and is told as if it is happening in front of the reader, like a film. Harrison creates a barren landscape, destroyed by war, and the characters inhabit this wasteland. In a sparse but gripping style, he conveys a sense of the horrors of life in the trenches where soldiers fight and die, entombed in mud, surrounded by rats and lice and forced to survive on insufficient rations. This image and style of writing is exactly what holds our attention so strongly throughout the novel.

Harrison’s intention is to awaken his readers to the new reality of War. The opening chapter portrays the new soldiers leaving Montreal for the first time as lost, unhappy and childish in their attempts to blot out their fears of what is to come. The parade to the train station is described in a series of fragmented images, in an atmosphere of bewilderment and degradation. Quickly enough, in the following chapter, Harrison sends his unnamed narrator over to France, where the true horrors of war immediately become apparent. The romanticized image of war totally disappears from the narrator’s mind as soon as he arrives at the trenches. He is scared for his life and doesn’t even really understand what he is fighting for. His vision extends beyond his immediate experience to register and respond to the whole extent of human suffering that the war creates. From now on, the novel takes on the grinding, disciplined structure of military action followed by periods of rest. This structure helps to convey the unrelieved...
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