"Man" Made Disease

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Megan Whited
ENG 112 HC
Final Paper
December 8, 2012
“Man” Made Disease
Gender related expectations held by the home-front and the soldiers themselves, due to their cultural upbringing which instilled a false idea of masculinity, hold the notion that a man doesn’t feel emotions such as fear. The stress involved in the suppression of these emotions to fulfill those societal standards leads to shell-shock. Pat Barker’s novel Regeneration puts these stereotypes under close and critical examination. Rupert Brooke wrote poetry which proved that society’s high standards of masculinity were attainable. Siegfried Sassoon’s poem “Repression of War Experience” depicts how attempting to withhold a masculine image affects the thought process of shell-shocked soldiers when dealing with their memories. Greg Harris, a Miami University student, and Elaine Showalter both wrote articles pertaining to Sassoon and River’s specific instance of shell-shock treatment. Using Regeneration, Brooke’s and Sassoon’s works, and Elaine Showalter and Greg Harris’s articles, this essay will show masculinity expectations of the early 20th century, the contradiction those expectations have with trench warfare, how that combination creates shell-shock, and how shell-shock’s treatments show the opinions society had for these men.

When World War I started, British culture was still holding onto Victorian concepts of gender and masculinity. Society generally believed that men should only show emotions or traits like courage, anger, strength, loyalty, camaraderie for fellow men, and passion and love of war. They were feminine or cowardly if they felt any fear, nurturing, pain, love towards other men, guilt, anguish, passivity or dislike of war. (Harris) Rupert Brooke’s poetry is a good example of how a man was expected to feel towards war. While the natural reaction to dying in war would obviously be fear, men were really expected to feel the way Brooke claims in his poetry. Lines like “dying has made us rarer gifts than gold,” and “[h]e leaves a white/Unbroken glory, a gathered radiance,/A width, a shining peace, under the night,” show he believes dying in war is no cause for fear because you will be honored. Lines like, “If I should die think only this of me:/That there is some corner of a foreign field/That is forever England. There shall be/In that rich earth a richer dust concealed,” (Brooke 156-57) confirm the idea that one should be thankful to their country to be given the chance to die for their it. (Brooke 156-57) Elaine Showalter came across a war pamphlet entitled “Instructions for the Training of Platoons for Offensive Action” which she quoted in her article. The pamphlet describes what was seen as the ideal attitude for men in battle. They should be “cheery, even in adverse circumstance” and “blood-thirsty and forever thinking how to kill the enemy.” (Showalter) In Regeneration, Sassoon mentions a man named Campbell who would give lectures over “The Spirit of the Bayonet,” and talked about murder strategies as if it were stand-up comedy. Campbell would say things like, “Stick him in the kidneys, it’ll go in like a hot knife through butter,” while the men would laugh but Sassoon knew that really, “They hate it.”(Barker 117) When Britain joined the war, lots of propaganda was floating around stating that these manly men should all be excited and gearing up for the Great War, “the Great Adventure”. Marching along, battling the classic imagined scene, and making heroes of themselves was what Britain promised the war would do; but as Regeneration describes, instead of “Mobilization. The Great Adventure. They’d been mobilized into holes in the ground so constricted they could hardly move…crouching in a dugout, waiting to be killed.” (Barker 108) Men arrived to the front expecting this great manly experience to be awaiting them, but instead they were “worrying about socks, boots, blisters, food, hot drinks.” In other words, behaving in ways they...
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