Wilfred owen dulce et decorum est and mental cases the price paid by soldiers

June 3, 2018 General Studies

In the selection of Owen’s poems, compare the ways in which he reflects on the price paid by soldiers during wartime. You should look for connections across the poems studied, in relation both to the situations and feelings described and the way in which Owen has used language for effect. ” Wilfred Owen gave us his first hand experiences of war. He was appalled by the ‘human squander’. the waste and pity of war. In both ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Mental cases’ he highlights the absurd glorification of war and its horrific effect on young men.

‘Dulce et decorum est’ illustrates the scene of soldiers “cursing” back to their trench in a dull, depressing battlefield of World War 1 behind the allied lines, which is suddenly turned upside – down by a surprise gas attack. “Mental cases” is set in a hospital for shellshock victims in “twilight”. It is set in the darkness to show how the men were in a dark, depressing mental state and to add to the gloomy effect. The poems also document other experiences, the living hell of shell- shock in ‘mental cases’.

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And a cruel and grotesque death from mustard gas in ‘dulce et decorum est’. In both poems he pays careful attention to the rhyme and meter for further effect and meaning. Owen portrays the soldiers in both poems in ways that are very unlike the glorified image of a young soldier presented by the society of the day. In mental cases they are mentally ruined, their minds destroyed by the sight, sound and memories of the battlefield. Owen suggests that war has changed these young men.

They now “leer” with “jaws that slob” unable to control their facial expressions, stripping them of their youth and making them seem like aged characters with no life in them due to their wartime experiences. Furthermore, the description of the soldiers in “dulce et decorum est” provokes images of illness, poverty and exhaustion. In the first stanza, they are described as “bent double, like old beggars” although they are young men in the prime of life, they are described like old and decrepit men.

When the soldiers “fit the clumsy helmets” this illustrates the nervous difficulty of using a helmet in a near – death situation. Owen uses the word “clumsy” to show the difficulty of the men’s actions and how tired soldiers would struggle with them. Moreover, the image of “an ecstasy of fumbling” could mean that the gas attack was so intense and unreal that it was ecstatic. To give us an even greater understanding about the extreme and unnecessary suffering of war, Owen depicts the physical and mental agonies of the soldiers, both during the war and long after as well. ‘dulce et decorum est’ uses visual and sound imagery to convey the exhaustion and pain of war. We can see they are “blood shod” and we can hear a man is “guttering, choking drowning”. The same man’s “white eyes writhing” and “froth- corrupted lungs” tell us graphically and harshly just how gruesome his death is. ‘Mental cases’ Uses visual imagery “eyeballs shrink tormented back into their brains” These men whose pain was once on the battlefield is now, long after, the mental pain of shell- shock.

In the poem ‘Mental Cases’ Owen has considered the structure of his text carefully in order to explore the mental and physical effects of war on soldiers. Owen has varied the lengths of the stanzas to reflect that there is no logic within the soldier’s minds. Equally, there is no rhyme or meter in the poem again because the soldiers cannot think properly. There is also incorrect grammar and the distortion of grammatical rules “why sit they here”. This distortion of grammar could suggest the distortion of the soldiers minds.

Likewise, dulce et decorum est contains four stanzas, each varying in length to show the men drifting in and out of consciousness. The poem is also in Iambic pentameter which could represent the marching of soldiers feet. Both poems suggest that war has dehumanised the soldiers. Owen’s use of “these” and “they” strips these characters of their humanity and turns them into things that have lost all human aspect. Owen shows men supposedly in their prime become senile wrecks. His use of oxymoron “Slow panic” shows that young, fit men can panic slowly due to shellshock, which is sad and ironic.

Also, ‘Dulce et decorum est’ describes the man’s treatment after he is considered dead. “The wagon that we flung him in” the word “flung” portrays his treatment as harsh due to war and many deaths. Another price soldiers paid was the guilt of watching comrades die “In all my dreams, helpless sight, he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning”. Owen describes that he is “helpless” urging to help the man, but having the guilt of not being able to. Owen says that war is hell. In ‘mental cases’ the traumatised soldier live in a “twilight” world that Owen suggests is death or hell in life.

They sit in “purgatorial shadows”, they have “skulls” not faces, and “their heads wear this hilarious, hideous/ awful falseness of set- smiling corpses”. They exist in a living hell where in their waking moments they relive the terrible experiences they have had on the battlefield, the “carnage incomparable”. Death has invaded their minds so much that they can no longer think of anything else. hell is also depicted as “fire”, “lime” and “thick green light” in of the mustard gas in ‘dulce et decorum est’ the dying mans blood he coughs up is “corrupted” by the disintegration of his lungs.


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