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Survival and Sacrifice

In: English and Literature

Submitted By ethanmcgrath9
Words 1924
Pages 8
War usually tells us a story that is about death, violence, brutality and tragedy faced by the soldiers that are sent to the battlefield. However, war doesn’t only tell that story, but rather looks at the survival and sacrifices that soldiers must face in order to survive – and uncovers the true reality of war. This can be seen in selected stories from Tim O’Brien’s novel the things they carried and Wilfred Owen’s WWI poem Dulce Est decorum. Through the individual stories the man I killed and the things they carried, we are able to explore how the author struggles to deal with the effects of war, surviving through the guilt and heartache of expected murder and sacrificing individual dreams in order to keep his team safe. Similarly, Owen’s poem explores how individuals have to survive through the ghastly environments associated with war at the cost of individual lives. Both texts reveal how men at war are forced to sacrifice their hopes and dreams in order to survive the demands of war.

In Tim O’Brien’s novel, the things they carried, the composer gives us an insight into the mindset and the emotional depth of soldiers in war, and the difficult sacrifices needed to make in order to survive. The theme of sacrifice is most evident in the chapter the things they carried, as the main character Jimmy Cross faces a moral dilemma; to either sacrifice his dreams, or to sacrifice the safety of his team, after the death of Ted Lavender in which he felt responsible for. The quote “He had loved Martha more than his men, and as a consequence Lavender was now dead”, displays the intentions of Cross before Lavender’s death, and his strong emotion towards Martha; the girl that embodied his dreams. By delivering the sentence in a manner of which the composer has directed the sentence straight to the point, we are able to sense the guilt Cross is facing, as he comes to terms with his actions. By using this method, the reader is not lulled into a sense of sympathy for Cross – as he realises that his conduct had caused someone’s death – but tells us that the repercussions of putting his selfish thoughts in front of the safety of his men, had led to the sacrifice of safety. The quote “This was something he would have to carry like a stone in his stomach for the rest of the war”, exposes the perception of guilt in the place of the stone, and how he would have to live with the incident for the rest of his life. By utilizing a simile, the composer expands the sacrifice made to an emotional level, as it conveys the point through comparison and visualization; allowing us to visualize and experience the impact of having ‘stones in the stomach’. The quote “he burnt the two photographs” reveals his deciding thoughts of Martha leading him astray, which had caused the distraction and incompetence that led to Lavender’s death. He burns Martha’s pictures and letters in an attempt to distance him from the sentimentality he sees, and by sacrificing the only connection to his previous identity and his past life; he concludes that that it is “better to be loved than to lead”. This chapter in particular explores the pain and the expense of sacrifice through the dilemma Cross faces, allowing us to uncover the reality of war, in which sacrifices are made.

In Wilfred Owen’s poem Dulce Est Decorum, the idea of sacrifice is also expressed, through the sacrifice of morals, ethics and innocence when a soldier is thrust into a dire position; to either follow basic human instinct to help someone in need, or to survive. In this poem, the composer is able to communicate these ideas through the Owen, as he is forced to witness a gruesome death of one of the men in his battalion. By using the quote “He plunges at me, guttering, choking, and drowning”, we are able to embrace the emotional impact of the sacrifice Owen has to make, as he watches the man pass in front of him with pain and suffering smeared across his face. The use of listing the events evokes strong melancholy within the reader; as the hopelessness of watching the man die resonates in the reader’s mind, and by using words such as guttering, choking and drowning, grants us the ability to personally endure the ordeal. This shows us the consequence of sacrifice in war, as the Owen treasures his life more than others – which is a natural reaction; even though the idea is heartless. The quote “behind the wagon that we flung him” justifies the situation in which Owen is placed in, revealing the sacrifice of innocence during the war. By using emotive language to convey the desensitization to war, we can see that the men had sacrificed their innocence in order to bare the pain of witnessing death constantly, showing us the true reality behind war. The quote “devil’s sick of sin” represents the disgust and the lack of remorse from the soldiers, who stood plainly blanked face, watching the man die in pain. By using alliteration, it helps to convey that the devil; being similar to the man with his white writhing eyes, represents the reality of war, and how it is not sugar coated as portrayed by propaganda. The language also communicates the desensitization towards war, as the men stood blanked faced, not affected by the dying man in front of them. The poem shows us the sacrifice Owen made in order to stay alive, and the sacrifice of his morals, ethics and innocence to do so – uncovering the reality of war.

In O’Brien’s novel the things they carried, especially in the chapter the man I killed, the theme of survival is evident, as O’Brien faces the moral choices of taking someone’s life. The chapter reveals the brutality in war as people are faced to take innocent lives in order to keep themselves alive, in which regret and guilt takes over – and the true survivors are revealed. The quote “his jaw was in his throat his upper lip and teeth were gone, his one eye was shut the other eye was a star shaped hole” gives us vivid descriptions of the corpse of a young boy that O’Brien killed in cold blood, allowing us to fully understand the extent of the unintended murder. Through the use of visual imagery, we are able to picture the both horrific and beautiful sight of death, allowing us to easily identify with the victim and understanding the terrible nature of killing, expressed in such words as ‘star shaped hole’. The quote “you want to trade places with him!” spoken by Kiowa, shows the stance of the soldier in the aspect of surviving war, as there was no choice that is taken. Kiowa acts as a calming presence for O'Brien. He tries to remind O'Brien that it's not like he killed a man for no reason on the street; as war changes the moral definition of murder. The fact that Kiowa keeps returning to O'Brien shows that he's not just trying to help, but he's unsettled by the death as well, securing the idea that they are both survivors. The quote “the guy was dead the second he stepped on the rail” spoken by Kiowa is extra reassurance for O’Brien, as he faces the guilt and the pain of killing someone in cold blood in which O’Brien succumbs to the pressure. The use of reassuring language helps us understand that both men are not happy with the actions they have performed, unsettled and convinced that they are not justified in killing – seen especially in O’Brien. This shows us that even though surviving war can be as ‘simple’ as killing a man, the emotional weight and burden of the guilt truly shows who is a real survivor. This unpacks the underlying message of ‘survival of the fittest’ in war, showing that even though the murder was un-intentional, you will bear the burden forever.

The poem Dulce Est Decorum by Wilfred Owen, explores the survival of the men during the war, and how the courage and strength of mind and body is the breaking point of whether someone survives war or not. The quote “knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge” expands on the impression that war is ugly, forcing men to work in horrible conditions, and also reveals the strength of body and mind in which the soldiers must carry during war – in order to survive. By using the simile ‘coughing like hags’, comparing the young boys in their twenties to old people coughing their lungs out, we are able to visualize the experience in which the soldiers must face in order to survive the war. It explains that the men who had to work in the inhumane conditions had to have a strong motivation in order to survive the treacherous conditions, and needed to be physically ready in order to endure the hardship they faced every day. The quote “an ecstasy of fumbling, fitting the clumsy helmets, just in time” confesses the sudden shock and the alertness soldiers need to have in order to live another day. The quote “but someone still was yelling out and stumbling and flound'ring like a man in fire or lime” reveals to us the real meaning behind the ‘survival of the fittest’ as even though the other men watching the floundering man wanted to help, the willingness to survive forbid them to help. By using language such as floundering or stumbling, we are able to picture the poor helpless man as he struggled to strap on his mask before suffocating in a sea of gas, allowing us to full embrace the fact that in order to survive, there must be a strong sense of determination and strong sense of mind. The quote shows us that the men standing idling by have a powerful strength of mind to survive the ordeal, as they are witnessing someone dying hopelessly in front of them. It is evident that many wanted to help, being a natural instinct to help those in need, but the motivation to live and survive the war was stronger than the determination to help one in need. This declares that in order to survive war, one must have a strong sense of mind and physical power, but also courage and determination to march on for another day, even after seeing such horrific sights. It shows that the men who lived through war are true survivors – living through both emotional and physical challenges.

In conclusion, it is evident that the emphasis of death, violence and brutality is revealed in war stories, and expressed through the characters in the stories. However, the stories also show the nerve racking choices needed for survival, and the sacrifice of innocence, morals and ethics. These ideas were explored in Tim O’Brien’s novel and Wilfred Owen’s poem, as both of the composers convey the ideas extensively throughout their pieces – where O’Brien’s piece reveal the sacrifice of dreams for the safety of his men and the strength of survival in midst of killing innocence, and where Owen’s poem reveals the innocence and morals sacrificed in order to survive war. Ultimately, the moral of war stories is to be revealed as not only glorified pieces of work that objectify blood and gore, but pieces that reflect on human survival and sacrifices needed to be taken, and the emotional toll it has on the soldiers.…...

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