What aspects of this passage are of interest, considering the novel as a whole?
In this passage, a number of key themes are introduced into the novel. Waugh highlights Guy’s dislocation in society and his feelings of loneliness and exclusion. Waugh also satirises the upper class of society greatly throughout the novel and particularly in this passage.
Other themes presented in the passage which are important to the novel as a whole are themes of selfishness and justice. In the passage, Waugh portrays as lonely and excluded from society at the time.
From the statement, ‘There was always someone going Guy’s way towards his hotel, always a friendly arm. But his heart was lonely. , we can see that Guy is unable to find a female companion which adds to his loneliness and gives his life less purpose. Furthermore, he seeks comfort from the old soldiers but ‘Guy found no sympathy among these old soldiers for his own hot indignation’. Guy seems to be insulted by the fact he is not able to lead the life of a typical soldier and feel a sense of inclusion. Later in the novel, Guy psychologically excludes himself from the rest of his regiment by saying ‘It looks as though I am going to be an extra mouth’, implying that he is not useful to society at the time, giving his life little purpose.
By describing Guy’s situation, Waugh is questioning whether society fulfils its purpose of making people feel included and useful. Guy’s age acts as a barrier between him and the younger soldiers who call him ‘Uncle’, emphasised when ‘He was excused from parades and Physical Training’ because of his injury. Before the passage, Waugh explains that ‘Guy alone was a stranger among them’. Waugh’s use of emotive language such as ‘Guy alone’ and the word ‘stranger’ help create an image of loneliness, as Guy is different from the rest of the men.
Guy’s inability to live a life of fulfilment and feel a sense of inclusion plays a part in Waugh’s satirising of the upper class. Waugh suggests that the exclusivity of the upper class prevents Guy living a life of fulfilment. Guy wants to become a part of the war effort in order to make himself useful but finds himself being excluded. This is supported by Lord Kilbannock who remarks that ‘It’s a very exclusive war at present. Once you’re in, there’s every opportunity. Waugh is able to satirise the upper class by ridiculing the principles, actions and traditions of the Halberdiers.
Waugh often patronises the Halberdiers with Guy thinking ‘… it seemed impossible that anything conducted by the Halberdiers could fall short of excellence’. However, this statement is ironic as, in the same chapter, Guy and half a dozen of the Halberdiers receive the wrong order, culminating in them missing the train to their new destination, Kut-al-Imara House. This shows that the Halberdiers give the appearance of a well organised force, but in reality, they are not an efficient fighting force.
Waugh also satirises the upper class through the use of double-barreled names. In the passage, the name ‘Box-Bender’ is mentioned. Throughout the novel, Waugh uses double-barrelled names for numerous characters, such as ‘Ritchie-Hook, Sarum-Smith’ and a triple-barrelled name for ‘Grace-Groundling-Marchpole’. In their endeavour to remain exclusive, they have embellished their names to the extent of comical pomposity. However, the name ‘Crouchback’ serves only to exclude Guy yet further, giving a pathetic image of a poor, old man bent over with a sore back.
The exclusiveness of the upper class is translated into the theme of selfishness by many characters throughout the novel. Firstly, many young soldiers had their lives ruined by generals such as Ritchie-Hook who were prepared to carelessly ‘spend them’. In the passage, Waugh argues that ‘Most of them had gone straight from school to the trenches and spent the rest of their lives forgetting the mice and lice and noise. ‘ The repetition of the word ‘and’ in this sentence emphasises the negative aspects of war. Secondly, in this novel as a whole, Virginia represents the selfishness of the upper class.
She is prepared to use men for their money and leave them if they lose their money. For example, when talking to Guy outside the passage, Virginia reminisces ‘It was the year everyone went broke… That was another of the troubles with Tommy’ and ‘Money gone, Me gone, all in one go’. Both these comments show that Virginia left her husbands when they had no money, illustrating her lack of principles and selfishness. Waugh extends the theme of selfishness in the novel to society in general, when the hotel owners raise their prices such as at the Marine Hotel. Managements and servants had settled down to the simple policy of doing less than they had done before, for rather more money. ‘ They are exploiting their fellow countrymen as they know that comfortable accommodation is at a premium. The moral issues involving Apthorpe’s selfish and ruthless attitude to promotion relate to the theme of justice in the novel. During the passage, justice is considered briefly by the old soldiers. Box-Bender’s view is that ‘You’d have a general strike and the whole country in collapse if you set up to be just’.
This reinforces the moral issue that a selfish, immoral man finds it easier to progress in our society, illustrated by men in authority such as the Brigade Major and Ritchie-Hook. Guy takes the Brigade Major’s advice and takes a bottle of whisky to Apthorpe in hospital as an act of kindness, but this results in the death of Apthorpe for which he is forced to take full responsibility. Neither the Brigade Major nor Ritchie-Hook give him any support. This event shows that army life encourages a ruthless, selfish attitude as a lack of justice within the army ranks will ensure this type of character succeeds.