Applying a School of Criticism of Schilb and Clifford Analyze “Birdsong”
The final part of the book is a recurring sub plot set in the seventies. We initially meet Jack Firebrace in the most horrific circumstances possible. Jack is a miner, tunnelling under enemy positions placing mines in the hope of halting enemy advances.
This gory battle took place between the 1st of July 1916 and the 23rd of November 1916. “Bugles and whistles sounded, and the first of the hundred and twenty thousand British soldiers rose from their trenches and went over the top.”“Over a million soldiers were killed in the Battle of the Somme alone, including a massive 30,000 in just one day”. Faulks presents this slaughter of innocent lives extremely well in Birdsong, and the Somme sections provide hideous and graphic content to illustrate to the reader the severity of ‘the war to end all wars’, and its physical conflict. Faulks describes this horrific battle through Stephen’s eyes; “There was a man beside him missing part of his face, but walking in the same dreamlike state, his rifle pressing forward. His nose dangled and Stephen could see his teeth through the missing cheek.”
Moreover, the authors, who witnessed war, might be reluctant to speak about its atrocities because these memories were very painful. So, these motives could have shaped their literary choices. The concept of heroism is closely related to masculinity. In fact, the perceptions of heroism are often based on the gender norms established at the beginning of the twentieth century. In particular, Sebastian Faulks notes that the soldiers were supposed to act as “real men” (1997, p. 123). In other words, these people were supposed to display fortitude or stoicism, even though they did not even to be involved in this war. Such people were not allowed to display any signs of weakness. One should keep in mind that Sebastian Faulks does not dismiss the importance of heroism. Moreover, the writer does not deny that many of soldiers could indeed display fortitude and courage. Nevertheless, the writer lays stress on the idea that heroism was not always the major priority for these people. This is one of the assumptions that the writer does not accept because it eventually leads to the victimization of soldiers. This is of one of the aspects that is important for the analysis of this novel. Yet, one should take into account that some of the poets, who lived during World War I, did not want to emphasize their heroism. This issue is partly explored by Wilfred Owen in his poem Dulce et Decorum est. His poem indicates that in many cases, soldiers could be reduced to the status of mere machines that could no longer care about other people. Moreover, these people could be reduced to “old beggars” (Owen 2005, p. 52).
Brooke, R 2013, Collected Poems, The Oleander Press, London.
Faulks, S 1997, Birdsong: A Novel of Love and War, Vintage, London
Owen, W 2005, The Collected Poems of Wilfred Owen, New Directions Publishing, New York.
Sasson, S 2012, War Poems of Siegfried Sassoon, Courier Dover Publications, London.