The Live the Memory of the Millions Sacrificed in WW1

Harrison has been able to effectively and accurately portray the psychology of soldiers at the time. Throughout the novel, there is a key theme of the systematic undermining of notions of war’s nobility and utility. Against the idea of vanquishing the enemy, he depicts the unnamed soldier’s vocalization of his own strong opinions - “We have learned who our enemies are - the lice, some of our officers, and Death”. This shows the young men’s journey as they come to see their superiors as the enemy. This is done through the questioning of the rationale of the war, and those who benefit from sending millions out to die, lacking any comprehension of their fate. This successfully mimics the propaganda-like nature of literature in history.

Again, against the idea of comradeship, Harrison creates a scene in which soldiers fight over a crust of bread, highlighting the petty nature the war has created amongst the men. Contrary to the concept of military discipline, Canadian soldiers are seen to loot an unoccupied French village - breaking into churches, vandalizing, stealing food, and destroying artworks all before finally setting fire to the houses. This novel presents the concept of war, taking young, decent boys and dehumanizing and brutalizing them.

Add a quote from the novel, and then critics quote supporting this.  Highlighted is the modernist view that war may not have been virtuous after all. The novel serves as an accusation, through the questioning of the judgments of the Generals who, from the safety of their comfortable headquarters, cynically send their dehumanized, suffering troops to their deaths. The past common understanding of war as glorious and noble, associated with comradery and honor, is completely challenged and shown to be false in Harrison’s view. “We are getting it in earnest now. Again we throw ourselves face downward on the bottom of the trench and grovel like savages before this demoniac frenzy.” Through the recount of the barbaric conditions the men are facing, the honest and harsh reality of the war is emphasized.

Harrison has accomplished an accurate portrayal of the physical hardships of soldiers in the trenches at the time. Through the stark imagery and bleak surroundings created, Harrison is able to evoke an emotional response for readers to more effectively portray this hardship. Although between the intensity of the hardship and fighting, Harrison works to create an oasis of calm- “During the long winter months in the line, bodies did not exist for us. We were men in uniform; clumsy, bundled, heavy uniforms. It is amazing now to see that we have slim, hard, graceful bodies. Our faces are tanned and weather-beaten and that aged look which the trench gives us still lingers a bit, but our bodies are the bodies of boys.” Harrison works to create this holistic understanding, which has not previously been explored throughout literature fully, that the war had more than just immediate effects on these young men.

In order to portray a fragmented and discontinuous experience for the reader, consistent with the experiences within the trenches, Harrison has adapted imagist techniques. The staccato stylistic features have been commented upon by many, such as W.J. Keith, who remarks that the novel is “told in the present tense, in short, unadorned sentences; often a single sentence is set apart as a paragraph, producing a jumpy, disturbing but ultimately deadening effect as one event harshly and remorselessly succeeds another”. John Moss creates a similar argument: “The style is simple, direct, unpretentious: words are concrete, sentences brief, paragraphs so short they follow a staccato rhythm down the page, echoing the inexorable onslaught of the war they describe”. Highlighted is the fact that Harrison has chosen to actively write in styles of more recent literary modernism rather than conventions of realism seen in most war novels.

The novel serves as an elegy, keeping alive the memory of the millions sacrificed in WW1. It highlights the fact that Allied troops have been cynically deceived by their leaders, dealing with the realization of this ultimate moral betrayal- acknowledging the “Generals die in bed” while the soldiers experience a “living hell” that has made their lives senseless and brutal. In addition to exploring the savagery of war, Generals Die in Bed examines how people attempt to cope with this dehumanization- something less explored in previous literature. The novel tracks the descent of modern civilization into corporate madness, exploring the effects of war on ordinary people and looking at how they manage in extraordinarily horrific situations. Essentially, the novel celebrates the pragmatic heroism of the ordinary soldier who is more concerned with personal survival than a glorious cause that turns out to be a hollow lie. The text has become critically acclaimed after sparking much interest, including John Moss claiming that the novel is “possibly the best novel in English to have come out of the First World War”. The text could be seen to echo twentieth-century sentiments- the struggle of the individual in the face of a senseless and barbaric modern world. 

07 July 2022
Your Email

By clicking “Send”, you agree to our Terms of service and  Privacy statement. We will occasionally send you account related emails.

close thanks-icon

Your essay sample has been sent.

Order now
Still can’t find what you need?

Order custom paper and save your time
for priority classes!

Order paper now