Compare the ways in which expected roles were determined by gender in ‘Journeys End’ and ‘The Accrington Pals’. To what extent would you agree that ‘Accrington Pals’ presents a more credible image than ‘Journeys End’. A large proportion of Great War literature suggests that men were socially seen as the superior gender but women were given opportunities to prove themselves in a male-dominated society as a by-product of war. This essay will compare the issues of gender identity and roles at the front line in R. C Sheriffs ‘Journeys End’ and the impact war had on women who stayed home in Accrington, seen in Peter Whelan’s ‘The Accrington Pals’ during 1914 and 1918. ‘Journeys End’ appears to be a more credible drama because of Sheriffs first-hand experience of the war, where as ‘The Accrington Pals’ depicts the more emotional side of war. R. C Sheriff uses Stanhope as an example of how war affected young, intelligent and inexperienced men and showing the reality of war. Stanhope is the stereotypical male of WW1. He is the image of authority, power and patriotism.
He is also thought incredibly highly of from the lower ranks. ‘He’s a long way the best company commander we’ve got’. It seems as though men were in the war for a long time but the reality being that the death rate of British officers was higher than that of the lower ranks with the average life expectancy of an officer being fourteen days. The word ‘long’ therefore creates irony within the drama. From the beginning of the drama, we are enlightened of Stanhope’s experience and dedication to his duty, however, Stanhope could be seen as a contradictory figure.
His heavy drinking and reliance on alcohol may be a sign of weakness, which could also present Sheriffs use of realism in the drama. Stanhope is far from reluctant to admit he has a drinking problem. ‘Without being doped with whisky- I’d go mad with fright. ’ Sherriff’s own experience may have been reflected on in this dialogue as men at war used to seek comfort in things in order to avoid fright. It is apparent that this is the reason for Stanhope’s excessive drinking. Seeking comfort in something seen as sinful by society is also typical of Ralph from ‘The Accrington Pals’ who seeks contentment whilst away from his girlfriend, Eva Mason.
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At the beginning of the play, Ralph expresses love, affection and admiration for Eva; ‘clever woman! Eh? Brains! ’, which is why it seems disappointing when Ralph admits he has been unfaithful to her in whilst away at war, seen in the extract, ‘I’ve been a bastard to you Eva, if only you knew. Slept with whores’. Ralph, being a typical representation of a working class citizen suggests that war can turn even the most honourable man to adultery in the search for comfort. It is almost as if Whelan sympathises with the fragility of men because of their previous innocence, horrific war and their apparent flaws.
Through the use Stanhope and Ralph as characters the audience understand the expectations placed on men because of their class. Stanhope, being from the high rank in the military is ultimately granted respect from the lower ranks, whilst Ralph in ‘The Accrington Pals’ was from a lower class citizen and in a lower rank, thus the reason for C. S. M Rivers arrogance and lack of respect; ‘we don’t want you shooting yourself in the head. ’ C. S. M Rivers does not think Ralph is capable of the things man does in war, simply because of his class.
The patriotic character of Stanhope in ‘Journeys End’ compares with Tom Hackford from ‘The Accrington Pals’, who illustrates comradeship throughout the entire drama. Despite his description in the preface being that he is ‘a dreamy, utopian idealist young man’, he does not seem typical of the average man of the war as he appears almost as a young boy, not knowing the horrific reality of what is to come. He is very dedicated to his future duty as a solider and seems excited to fight for his country, although this is not in the interest of May, who describes war with 'that's a world you love isn't it’.
As an audience, we gain an insight to Tom’s reasons for volunteering. This is ironic because he understands that he is soon to die but he describes signing up as a way to escape from Accrington for something new 'free of here, of this place, of this town'. Being such a socialist creature; it can only be disappointing that war has limited opportunities for the male gender as many of the young men who signed themselves up such as Tom and Ralph whom had no idea of the reality of the trenches because of government censorship.
Tom’s enthusiasm to his obligation is apparent throughout the drama, as seen in his letter he writes to May in scene two. ‘I hope you don’t mind me sharing it as we do all the parcels here’ Comradeship is proven as he shares his luxuries with the Pals. ‘I hope you don’t mind me sharing it’. Even near to his death, Tom still concentrates on sticking with one another to get through the war. The ideologies of Tom contrast to those of May Hassel, who is described from the outset of ‘The Accrington Pals’ as ‘a strong-minded, rugged individualist woman. The entrepreneurial spirit displayed through May’s independence and the leadership motive of the iron lady, suggest the advantages war gave women. Whilst the men are absent from Accrington, May is left focused on exploiting the chances now available, making her appear arrogant and cold hearted. May obsesses with business ideas and opts to making money out of the war. ‘I never believed that war would make a difference like this. There’s money around’.
The individual attitude and the drive to make money is not typical of the female gender role, therefore May does not present the normal values the contemporary audience are expecting from a woman. ‘The Accrington Pals’ suggests the more emotional side of war for women, showing the eventual downfall of May caused by the lack of male influence within war shaped society, however does strengthen May’s development as an individualist. The absence of Tom seems the reason for Mays change. Her development during the play into a more conventional and sensitive women (as seen in scene four act one).
The change in Mays character can be seen when she offers to make the tea. She seems more lenient and positive. In ‘The Accrington Pals’, it is arguable that May Hassal conforms to the role that is often portrayed of women in the First World War: taking on the everyday roles of men while they were away. This expectation has been shown to us through literature from the time, such as Emmeline Pankhurst’s autobiography which gives the proof that feminism was now a feature of Edwardian existence.
May suggests this as she is shown to be an individualistic, entrepreneurial ‘tartar’ (seen in conversation between the Pals). In this sense, however, May is shown to be more masculine, and has seemingly swapped roles with Tom who becomes more feminine. This can be determined by the labels that May gives him, such as ‘Dreamer’. However, these gender roles are once again returned to typical trends of society by the end of the play when May becomes feminised by Tom’s death. This seems to be portrayed as almost chaotic, and heroic.
Rivers says, ‘But our Tom was a hero … , a madcap scarecrow ripping his way out of the wire! ’ Tom’s death, while instilling a sense of masculinity back to Tom’s character role, also gives us a sense of uncommon femininity in May reverting her to the underlying fact that she is a female. Throughout the drama, May is often shown to be the cold hearted, aggressive character yet Tom’s death leads her to act out in a more emotional, feminine way and expresses her sorrowed emotions. This is similar to Stanhope and Raleigh’s relationship in ‘Journey’s End’.
Both are emotionally connected, and have been for a long time, yet the older character, Stanhope, treats Raleigh as both an outsider and a stranger for the majority of the play, speaking down to him and criticising him largely. Stanhope says in one instance ‘ D’you understand an order? Give me that letter! ’. In many ways, the relationship shared by Stanhope and Raleigh is similar to that of Tom and May; the older and more experienced character doubts the abilities and maturity of the younger, more innocent individual therefore limiting the care that is expressed between them.
Just as with May, Stanhope openly expresses his emotions during the death of Raleigh, showing a return to the Stanhope that was described by Raleigh earlier in the play – a hero, an idol, who cared for him. ‘Stanhope gently takes his hand. ’ Stanhope expresses a great deal of care for Raleigh in his final moments of life and attempts to make his death as comfortable as possible. This seems to show appreciation for him as a person per-war as well as a brave solider. This is similar to how May expresses her sorrow for Tom’s death in ‘The Accrington Pals’.
To conclude this essay, the gender of a person seems to alter the role they played during World War One. Men were expected to fight for their honour and country whereas women were expected to stay at home and support infants and households. Each role is an act of protection. Whether it was staying at home in Accrington, or fighting at the front in ‘Journeys End’, a place in society was inevitably determined by gender. ‘Journeys End’ was written from the personal perspective of R. C. Sherriff, so is more likely to be based on his own experiences of the war.
It is very likely that Sherriff witnessed the discussed gender roles and identities as part of the reality of war, adding to the credibility of the factual based play. His work seems to be heavily based on gender hegemonies apt of the Great War era giving extra depth and dimension to the truth of War. However one must not forget Peter Whelan wrote ‘The Accrington Pals’ when the war was over, therefore using information and experiences from historical evidence. Although this may be a more rounded opinion, in my opinion the real life experiences of R. C. Sherriff creates a far more credible and powerful piece of literature.
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