Nothing Worse than War-Crossed Lovers

Hemingway’s characters exhibit post-traumatic stress in clear ways, in particular, his main characters Jake and Brett. One characteristic of PTSD are negative thoughts about yourself and others. Jake has negative thoughts about everyone, including himself. Hemingway writes, “she [Francis] might as well get what there was to get while there was still something available,” (The Sun Also Rises, 13). Jake has extremely negative thoughts about all the women in the book. The undulating tension of Jake’s feelings about Brett does not contribute to a positivity overall towards women. The relationship between Jake and Brett is too fraught with emotional tension and angst.

Lady Brett Ashley’s character has difficulty in maintaining close relationships and is often hopeless about the future. Hemingway writes, “I don’t want to go through that hell again,” (The Sun Also Rises, 34). Here she is telling Jake that she can’t go through another truly intimate relationship with a wounded soldier like the one she had with her husband. She loves him, has to see him, but can never be a functioning part of his life as a result of the trauma she experienced from her previous relationship.

Hemingway expresses how all the characters experience emotions similar to those felt during the war for all his characters. He writes, “it was like certain dinners I remember from the war. There was much wine, an ignored tension, and a feeling of things coming that you could not prevent happening,” (The Sun Also Rises, 151). Hemingway conveys the shared feeling between the characters by drawing on the memories of “certain dinners” and “ignored tension”. Dinners and tensions are experiences that must be shared by more than one person. In this way, Hemingway establishes that the feelings Jake has are felt by all the characters. They are all reliving the WWI. They all have PTSD.

Faced with "The Waste Land"

         Eliot’s use of fragmentation is a device that he uses to capture the waking and dreaming surrealism of trench warfare. There’s no linear narrative in the poem at all. Instead, Eliot captures moments that could last for one or two lines or several. From part I lines 1-11 he continues in the same narrative of the seasons within the trenches, but then at line 12 (a line entirely in German) his poetry turns. He follows the turn with lines about a childhood memory that is clearly a recollection of a member of the ruling class. He writes:

Bin gar keine Russin, stamm’ aus Litauen, echt deutsch.

And when we were children, staying at the arch-duke’s,

My cousin’s, he took me out on a sled,

And I was frightened. He said, Marie,

Marie, hold on tight. And down we went, [lines 12 – 16].

After this break of linear narration, Eliot explains to readers that he is only offering “broken images” (line 22). He follows the broken, fragmented images throughout Parts I and II.

           In part II one of the clearest image breaks among the many examples occurs on line 139. The previous lines are a conversation between two people. At line 139 the conversational tone changes to a conversation between two people, but it is between two other people. The footnotes of the poem demonstrate that this was true of the poem.

           Eliot’s way of mixing fragmented images resemble a jumble of life experiences, both real or imagined, set against a background of surreal and contrasting landscapes. Eliot writes, “I will show you fear in a handful of dust” (line 30), “under the firelight, under the brush, her hair // spread our in fiery points” (108-109) and other intense irrational images. The fragmented surrealistic nature of the poem captures the assault on the mind when in the trenches and faced with the wasteland.

Allusion in The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot

In T.S. Eliot's "The Waste Land", there are several allusions to Shakepeare's play, "The Tempest". Having studied "The Tempest" last semester, I immeadiately noticed some of the lines, and when I checked the footnotes, I realized that there was more than just one reference to the play within the lines of "The Waste Land." In line 48 of "The Waste Land", the poem alludes to a song Ariel sings to Prince Ferdinand about his father's potential death. In line 191, it states "Musing upon the kiong my brother's wreck," which refers to Prince Ferdinand sitting on the bank of the island in "The Tempest". These allusions focus on the common theme of hopelessness that drifts throughout poems like "The Waste Land" that were produced during the same time period as WWI. As Prince Ferdinand sits on the bank of an island, realizing his father may have died in a shipwreck, he has lost all hope. "The Waste Land" reflects on that same lack of hope, and uses instances of hopelessness from other centuries to emphasize the mental effects that the Great War had on its victims in the 20th century. 


Picture the Word

         Literature builds images in our minds eye in ways that allow us to conceive of the images ourselves. European art, until this era, presented a clear perspective about what the artist wanted a viewer to see. The vague shapes of art from WWI allow the viewer of the work to conceive the image in their minds in a way that is similar to literature. So, literature at this time was converging with the shapes of art to blend the two together and art was converging with the concepts of literature to allow the viewer more control over what was conceived.

           This can be seen in the poem Il Pleut clearly. The author was dictating a clearer perspective of how to view the poem. By this I mean that the reader was supposed to see the rain, and not just conceive of the image based on the poem’s words. Words themselves became more art like in their shape and not only expressed the meaning of the author by what was written alone. How the word is presented on the page is just as important, if not more so, than the words themselves.

           I also felt that the war influenced this presentation on the page emerge because of the high levels of stress that was being felt. When people are trying to form words to say during extreme stress they picture the word in their mind as a shape. I feel like this is what led to the word presentation on the page to mimic the effects of shell shock and high stress. We say, “picture the word” nowadays, but I wonder if this concept occurred due to WWI? What does it mean to picture a word? I feel like WWI writers were experimenting with this concept because the fluidity of speech and writing was entirely disrupted.

Women & War Poetry

           I found “At the Somme: The Song of Mud” by Mary Borden to exhibit the way that a woman saw the war by experiencing war theater different from the home front poems like “A War Bride” by Jessie St. John. The home front poem is disconnected from the war. St. John writes, “what shall I do today,” in the first line of the poem. The war bride of the poem wonders how to feel her day, and sees the absence of men.

           Strikingly the men are viscerally present in Borden’s poem. There is mud, blood, death, and the struggle of war immediate in Borden’s work. Borden writes, "of mud-the obscene, the filthy, the putrid,
The vast liquid grave of our armies," (31-32). Comparing these two poems makes the line between the home front and the war front stark and well-defined. The similarity is that these poems are written not as combat experiences, but as women confined to clearly defined roles in the war.

Line Up Boys

The picture I chose to examine is titled "Line Up, Boys! Enlist To-Day". I chose the picture for several reasons, one of them being the impact it had on men, but the women they lived with. The poster displays a line of soldiers walking happily in uniforms, holding guns and laughing simultaneously. This poster although aimed at men, left women searching for a purpose in the war. It reminded me of Vera Brittain's interest in whatever role she could play in the war. On page five of "Introduction: Reading World War I Posters"  it says, "The unprecedented use of posters...and the marvelous results attained by the means of them, has impressed the power of the medium upon the world's population so forcibly that all doubt that may have existed as to its efficacy has been permanently removed". Although it has been repetitive in the class thus far, it is truly unbelievable that posters of soldiers walking in a line had the power to persaude an entire generation to join the work force. 

Brittain uses War Nurse Iconography for Story-telling Advantage

Like most Red Cross images, this advertisement also has a religious underpinning. It is more than the nature of the organization it is trying to represent that causes the Red Cross images to appear less “war like”. The main idea of the image seems to be that the advertisers want people to think on saving lives rather than spending them in war. The images are not anti-war, but the message is very different in their call to action.

    Advertisers want people to equate the Red Cross with the crucifix, Jesus, religion, mercy, and hope. These are very different call to actions than other war posters that are meant to inspire men to fight, families to risk money, or families to go without food stuffs. This poster seems to suggest that the Red Cross is a manifestation of Jesus Christ and that the men, specifically strangers, should be treated as family or else your family member will be treated less by God. The larger than human size Jesus within the art who is situated behind the active people in the foreground is meant to remind people of the power of God. The Red Cross at the level of his head and slightly behind his head symbolizing that the Red Cross is behind and equal to Jesus.

    The Red Cross symbology in the poster is disconnected to the real workings of nursing during WWI. Vera Brittain might laugh at the placid foreground scene considering how gruesome the real work of war nursing was. The poster scene is an entire disconnect from reality. Yet, the effects of the imagery of the war nurse in her uniform had to have played a part in Brittain’s life. She would have been looked at differently when in her uniform. Certain social actions would have been expected of her while in uniform. Her descriptions in her memoir give a sense to the reader that Brittain in uniform was different from the Brittain out of uniform. I do not think that the effects of this prestige was lost on her entirely because she uses her position to speak about the war with an authority over other homefront women. The irony is that the poster’s overglorified imagery is disconnected from reality yet a real life war nurse uses the iconography to her advantage.


“Inasmuch as Ye Have Done It Unto One of the Least of These...” Flickr, Latham Litho. and Ptg Co., Brooklyn, New York, 1910,

Brittain's External Tensions Reflected Internally

I was surprised by how much Vera Brittain stated she disliked all the changes that the war brought into her life, and yet at the same time rejoiced in all the things that had changed for her in practice. Brittain declares about the leaving of her childhood home, “I am so glad that they are leaving that artificial, north-country hole” (224). She does not seem to miss her hometown and she never returns to it. The disconnect from her home is clear, but throughout the text she reflects many times on her previous life there in a longing way. She even walks all over the town to say goodbye. Brittain writes, “I bid a hurried good-bye to all the places made dear to me” (204).

In nursing as well Brittain has this tension of finding worthiness in practicing nursing while also being highly critical of nursing's horrors and trials. The autobiography develops a heightened tension because of the authors vacillations. I think this speaks to the overall tension of the war itself.

Brittain, Vera. Testament of Youth: an Autobiographical Study of the Years 1900-1925. Penguin Books, 1994.

When Your Allies Steal the Stage in Your Theater of War

Many wars start for one reason, but continue for another - the Trojan war comes to mind as a classical example. The war may have started over a stolen wife, but that was not why it continued. Howard makes a similar argument, "Left to themselves, the original protagonists, Russia and Austria-Hungary, would almost certainly have done so. But the original causes of the war were now almost forgotten" (37). After a certain point, perhaps a war develops into too much lost life to give into a peace? People of a nation start to want the war for other reasons. They think they should keep fighting because look what happened in Ypres. They think now the other side has to pay for those losses in new losses of their own. So, it does become about who can declare the most glory or "manhood" and it stops being about what it started for all together. I mean Achilles didn't go to fight Trojans to get back Helen, and none of the Allies really went to war for the reasons they claimed either.

Howard, Michael. The First World War: a Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press,

Aspects of Vera Brittain’s War

Vera Brittain’s war explains a series of effects on countries involved in the war, whether it be emotional or physical. In section five of chapter four, Rupert Brooke’s poem describes the essence of the war. It states,
“Glad from a world grown old and cold and weary,/ Leave the sick hearts that honour could not move,/ And half-men, and their dirty songs and dreary—/ all the little emptiness of love? (Brooke). This portion of a poem is the most significant to me because of the truth behind the words. Everyone listening to the poem has a deep connection with the fear of war. It takes the effects of the war and lays them out in front of the audience. The country was afraid of the affects of war, and the citizens knew of the dangerous stories regarding trench warfare. The “sick hearts that honour could not move” refer to the soldiers dying in the trenches, unable to move. Lastly, the poem connects to the public because of a level of uncertainty. While Rupert Brooke’s poems were brought into the public eye after the poet’s death, the message and hopelesnees of the poem affected those who listened. It acted as a type of foreshadowing that was to come, which is the most unsettling aspect of the poem yet.