"Earth and Air and Fire and Water" is the inscription found on the grave stone of Robert Ross (page 190). As the novel ends with Robert Ross' passing on, these words attempt to sum up his life. This inscription not only signifies the protagonist resting place, but also gives a final clue to the hidden myth. Not only are these the four basic elements, but also the four stages in the 'trials' of a hero. In order to earn his status as a hero along with the admiration and attention of others, Robert had to ascend these hurdles. After passing his final and toughest ordeal, with fire, he will forever hold this status.
Traditionally in a myth of this nature, Earth and Air would be considered man's natural elements, whereas fire and water would be would constitute hurdles. In the case of Robert Ross, however, he must face all the elements in order to succeed. It begins with Robert almost drowning in the marshes, then almost being buried in a collapsing dugout, followed by his near escape of a gas attack (his trial by air), and finally he is fatally wounded by fire. Even before he faces it, it is clear from the early stages of the novel that fire is his element of the most consequence. The use of fire through the whole novel makes this fact indisputable.
Fire is also commonly used as a symbol of Hell, which in the novel is represented by the wartime setting. For Robert Ross' final hurdle, he must pass the test of fire. Although fire ultimately... [continues]
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