When Erich Maria Remarque’s published, All Quiet on Western Front in 1929, scholars of historical medicine, and history, analyzed the effects of war on soldiers. Analyzing effects of war on individuals allowed scholars and medical professionals to define war-trauma in terms of desensitization to life, and a cycle of hopelessness. Charles Hamilton Sorley’s poem, When You see Millions of the Mouthless Dead, suggests a sense of trauma experienced by soldiers inching towards mortality, and a declining emotional state. Wilfred Owen’s poem, Spring Offensive highlights literary evidence of trauma experienced by soldiers regarding sleep deprivation, war wounds, through usage of literary elements such as metaphors and imagery. Each poem and the novel has a similar theme, describing the tragedy of war on mental health.
War trauma stems from a long exposure of unfavorable experiences affecting the psychology of individuals associated with combat. Combat has notable effects on the psychology of individuals associated with war, which can lead to desensitization and a cycle of hopelessness. Interpersonal combat or violence involves life-threatening situations which may amplify this trauma. In Erich Maria Remarque’s, All Quiet on the Western Front, narrator Paul mentions “Distinctions, breeding, education are changed, are almost blotted out and hardly recognisable any longer” (129). As highlighted by this quote, overtime individuals involved in combat become emotionally desensitized to life. Furthermore, constant fears of safety and security has lead individuals to place importance on survival, as opposed to daily life experiences. This mindset triggered from traumatic experiences can develop into an illness referred to as present day post-traumatic stress disorder. Trauma associated with war can be also described as a sense of hopelessness. Hopelessness is a common symptom of depression, and a variant of an experience associated with war-trauma. Indirectly, hopelessness is tied in with depressive thoughts and a grim outlook towards the future. In the novel, Paul comments “All at once everything seems to me confused and hopeless” (page 42). Similar to All Quiet on the Western Front, Charles Hamilton Sorley’s poem provides evidence of war trauma of soldiers inching towards mortality.
When You see Millions of the Mouthless Dead, a poem by Charles Hamilton Sorley, describes evidence of war trauma. Sorley mentions in his poem, “Nor tears. Their blind eyes see not your tears flow.” Charles Hamilton Sorley is implying, due to implications of war, individuals have become emotionless. Since they are emotionless, combatants are ready to continue efforts in war without fear. As a case in point, similarities between shifting emotional thoughts are shown within this poem, and Erich Maria Remarque’s novel All Quiet on Western Front. Sorley mentions in his poem, “It is a spook. None wears the face you knew.” Charles Hamilton Sorley is referencing that soldiers involved in combat are transformed into what is a spook. A spook is in literary terms can refer to as a ghost. In essence, Sorley is making the comparison that individuals involved in war trauma have become numb to feelings, and have changed their personalities before they experienced war trauma. Furthermore, Charles Hamilton Sorley is mentions, “Nor honour. It is easy to be dead.” Sorley is describing the distinction between living and dead cannot be made during times of war. Individuals who are in the process of war, have no other option left. They are essentially sacrificing their life for their country, and increase the likely-hood of them passing away due to interpersonal combat.
Wilfred Owen’s Poem, Spring Offensive, describes war trauma in the form of sleep deprivation, and war wounds. Owen states in the form of imagery, “So, soon they topped the hill, and raced together.” Sleep deprivation, or exhaustion is prevalent during war-time efforts. Sleep deprivation or exhaustion can lead to a myriad of health complications, as exemplified by Wilfred Owen in his poem. Primarily, soldiers are exerting energy that is not being replenished by rest. Furthermore, short term consequences can occur. Short term consequences can alter diminished functioning throughout the day, or increase the probability to abuse substances such as nicotine, or other forms of drugs. As seen in All Quiet on the Western Front, soldiers heavily used nicotine based products such as cigarettes. Furthermore, sleep deprivation can lead to anxiety or a common form of an illness amongst veterans known as, post-traumatic stress disorder. Additionally, a lack of sleep can lead to reoccurring nightmares. These nightmares may continue on post-war, and may require medical attention. Wilfred Owen also mentions trauma due to war wounds through literary techniques such as metaphors. For instance, Owen states, “Leapt to swift unseen bullets, or went up.” Unseen bullets in this context means that soldiers are constantly defending themselves from the unknown. These unseen bullets can be potentially devastating, as they can impair an individual. These injuries can lead to permanent wounds, as well as an invisible wound. Invisible wounds are those that stem unfavorable experiences when glancing at a war scar. This can lead to a form of war-trauma, which can have severe implications on an individual. Went up in this context is used as a metaphor, and simply means, a soldier had a high chance of passing away. The fear of constantly being afraid for your life, will induce war-trauma in the future.
The poems presented and the novel All Quiet on the Western Front illustrates a theme of self-identity, and tragedies of war. In the novel, the narrator Paul realizes his identity after fighting for extensive periods of time. The narrator Paul makes subtle hints that, warfare and the tragedies associated with it, does not correlate to discovering one’s identity. Rather, the tragedies of war and conflict, devalues the self-discovery process. Paul comments, “Whoever survives, his country wins. That would be much simpler and more just than this arrangement, where the wrong people do the fighting” (page 21). The narrator Paul here is highlighting the idea that, rather than to actually discover one’s true identity, war does the opposite. Charles Hamilton Sorley’s poem, touches upon the same theme. For instance, Sorley comments, “That you’ll remember. For you need to not so.” Here Sorley is indicating that there is no self-discovery in war, and rather, it deviates from the original purpose. Furthermore, he is mentioning that war-tragedy occurs as deaths increase.
Overall, Erich Remarque’s novel, All Quiet on the Western Front, provided experiences of soldiers during a period war. Additionally, it allowed individuals analyzing the text to determine how to quantify war-trauma. Charles Hamilton Sorley’s poem, When You see Millions of the Mouthless Dead, provides literary examples of war-trauma soldiers experiences as they came closer to mortality. Wilfred Owen’s poem, Spring Offensive documented literary evidence of soldiers experiencing sleep deprivation, and exhaustion. All of these texts had a similar theme of self-discovery one’s identity, as well as the effects of war and trauma.