Last Updated 16 Jun 2020

Discuss How Sherriff Presents Human Weakness

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Discuss how Sherriff presents human weakness and frailty in Journeys End Journeys End was written with the intention of “letting the war speak”. The lives of the officers on the front line during 1917 are examined. A key theme that is explored throughout the play is the reactions of the mind and body, under the stress of the war. Each character represents the weakness of the human being in an individual way, but the character on which frailty is mainly focussed is Stanhope. Stanhope is the topic of many conversations within the dugout and the first conversation we see, Stanhope is mentioned.

The conversation is between Osborne, the second in command, and the commanding officer of the company being relieved. The commander inquires as to whether Stanhope is “drinking like a fish”, this indicates towards the audience for the first time, that Stanhope is an alcoholic and is seen to turn to alcohol to cope with the war. Osborne jumps to the defence of Stanhope, explaining that Stanhope is “the best company commander”. Despite Stanhope’s coping mechanism of alcohol, he still has respect shown to him by his men.

This is shown throughout, yet more so in the final moments of the play when the troops are rallied by Stanhope for the raid. Stanhope is shown to reject reminders of life before the war, and if his family waiting for him back home is mentioned it will not be tolerated. He shows that he does not want to be reminded when Raleigh arrives at the dugout and Stanhope becomes agitated. The conversations between the men and Stanhope are riddled with “silence” and on stage this would show the tension between the characters build up.

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We see how the war has also made Stanhope paranoid, and Stanhope’s irritation and paranoia become clear when he is insistent on looking through Raleigh’s letters home, to see if he has put anything derogatory about Stanhope. He is afraid that the truth about him being an alcoholic will reach home, and as Sherriff has told us, Stanhope has a fiancee waiting back home, and Stanhope does not want her view of him as this leader of the men to be damaged, especially by Raleigh writing home “and tell her I reek of whisky all day”.

Stanhope’s human qualities are not shown often throughout the play, yet when Sherriff introduces his fiancee who is waiting him back in England; it adds a tender heartedness to the character. Stanhope also seems to distract his self from the war by being obsessed with cleanliness and hygiene. This is also related to the war and shows the characters drive and determination to make it through the war. Stanhope is described in the stage directions as having “well brushed” hair and is shown to have “care for” his uniform.

Further in the play, the audience witnesses the death of Osborne who is seen as the caring figure within the dugout. After this, Stanhope uses anger along side the alcohol as a coping mechanism. It is shown how Stanhope appears to have lost everything, because of Osborne’s death. He has also lost Hibbert after using his authoritative powers over him and forced him to “get out” and “go to bed”. When Raleigh tries to talk to Stanhope about how he copes, Stanhope tells him to “get out” and so loses him as well. This scene shows the beginning of the downfall of Stanhope and bodes the ending of the play with the death of his soldiers.

In the play Stanhope admits to his need for alcohol to cope with the war, stating that if he was not “doped with whisky” he could “go mad with fright”. Possibly showing why he showed sympathy towards Hibbert when he was breaking down, and that if Stanhope can survive the war he could possibly change. Overall Stanhope is presented as a man with is weaknesses yet has the courage (although this could be because of the doping effects of alcohol) to push on throughout his stay in the dugout and the war. He is regarded as a hero in the eyes of his men.

Sherriff shows us Stanhope as an officer with a great experience of the war, yet this is juxtaposed with the fresh new recruit who is “straight from school”, Raleigh. The young soldier is idealistic and has arrived at the front lines with little knowledge of the reality of it all, but is in search of the intangibles, honour and glory. Sherriff shows this to the audience by having Raleigh describe the war like a game at school, using words such as “cricket” and “rugger”, which show the youth, innocence and naivety of Raleigh.

When the reality becomes clear, Raleigh’s attitude towards the war changes dramatically. The death of Raleigh at the end of the play sums up his characteristics in the best possible way, his innocence is shown until his final moments when he compares the wound in his back to be “just the same” as getting “kicked” in a game of “rugger”. His death signifies much more than the passing of one soldier, added with Raleigh passing, the candle flame extinguishing, shows the death of society in 1917 and of innocence, showing how nothing could return to the way it was in the years previous to the war.

After the raid which occurs near the end of the play, Raleigh’s view on the war has changed after he witnesses the first deaths of people he knew. He questions as to how Stanhope can stay drinking “champagne” whilst Osborne’s body is “lying-out there”. Again this shows the audience just how naive Raleigh is, as he has never experienced the loss of someone close to him and the effect that the war has on people. Despite Raleigh’s innocence and weakness, he is determined to fight until the end, showing that his character (although naive) has strength.

In his final scene, Raleigh is told he has “got a Blighty one”, yet Raleigh believes he “cant go home” showing how although it is the end, Raleigh has matured and has become a true soldier, willing to stay and fight on even in the face of adversity. Raleigh has finally achieved his goal of obtaining the intangibles, honour and glory, but the question the audience would be asking is, was his death worth gaining these? The relationship that is built up between Raleigh and Stanhope is examined from the beginning of the play, especially from the view of Raleigh worshipping Stanhope as a hero, “he’d just got his MC and been made a captain.

He looked splendid”. Near the end of the play, Stanhope changes his mood from not liking the fact that Raleigh is a member of his company, to a gentler approach, “he bathes the boys face”. This shows the audience the relationships which were formed by men during the war, even if this specific event does have feminine connotations. These relationships were a necessity to combat human frailty and weakness. Osborne is conferred in two contrasting ways.

In his physical appearance he is “hard as nails” and is seen as second in command of the company, but at the same time Sherriff also presents Osborne as an “uncle” to the men, due to his nature of being gentle. Stanhope seems to have a large dependency upon Osborne and this is shown when Stanhope calls him “dear old uncle”, the use of dear here shows how much Stanhope needs him. Osborne is a humble and intelligent man. This is expressed when Osborne quotes a line from Alice in Wonderland (which is the book he is reading) “how doth the little crocodile…with gently smiling jaws”.

The audience is given a depth to Osborne’s character, and the “kid’s book” shows us his form of escapism from the war. The choice of book that is included could be seen as significant, as the characters in Alice in Wonderland are so mad, this could be used to represent the madness of the war and how little sense it made to many people. Osborne, in some ways, has more to deal with than the rest of the officers in the dugout, and thus this shows his strength, as he must cope with the problems of the other officers, as they look up to him as “uncle”, he is an outlet for the men and allows them to show their weakness.

Trotters coping mechanism is similar to that of Stanhope’s, in the way that he results to consuming a substance. It is clear that Trotter copes by eating, as he “has put on weight during the war”. Trotter also draws “a hundred and forty-four little circles on a bit o’ paper” which represent the one hundred and forty four hours which the officers must stay posted at the dugout and surrounding trench. Trotter is seen to maintain the company’s morale, as his (attempts to the) use of humour to keep spirits up, “cheer up skipper”.

Trotter is shown to be rather emotionless, yet this view changes later on in the play when Stanhope states that Trotter is “always the same” his reply is “little you know” showing that Trotter isn’t coping with the war as well as the other officers thought. Trotter is also used in a way, to highlight the culture of intangibles that had swept the younger generations of this times society, as he is honoured to gain the post of second in command of the company after Osborne’s death, showing how many men joined up to escape from their lives back home and go in search of honour and glory on the battlefield.

Hibbert is presented as a man whom the war has had a great psychological effect upon. In his first appearance within the play he complains about his “neuralgia”. The audience that would be viewing this play in 1928 would most likely show sympathy towards Stanhope, as he had to put up with this type of officer, yet a contemporary audience, with a greater understanding of the psychological effects the war had upon certain people, such as “shell Shock” or PTS (post traumatic stress disorder) would most likely show sympathy towards Hibbert.

Hibbert does not wish to join the other men before the big attack, “you want me to go up now? ” causing him to judge others by his own set standards. Stating that Raleigh is “too keen” because he was in the trenches with the other soldiers. Hibbert is rude to his commanding officer, Stanhope, as he does not follow his orders, and from a military perspective this would not be tolerated and Hibbert would have been eligible for court martial. Mason, in the play, is the character who is not of officer rank. He is a servant to the officers within the dugout.

At the beginning of the war (1914) officers were all form public schools, but as numbers started to diminish by 1917, officers were allowed to be from public or private schools. Masons distractions from the war are rather trivial, such as a tin of “apricots”. The inclusion of a lower class character shows how the war affected everyone, as class did not change the dangers that the soldiers faced. Out of being a servant little is seen of Mason, showing how although in the worst of circumstances, every day things such as cooking had to carry on. Critical Reviews of Journeys End

Many groups could comment upon the play and respond in different ways towards it. A Marxist would state that Sherriff does not achieve his aim, as the play only presents the middle classes who did not have to fight. And thus it does not show the horrific conditions in which many ordinary soldiers had to endure in the trenches. It does not show the fear felt by the men on the front line because the play is set in a (relatively) safe dug out, in which the officers have a servant and in comparison to the ordinary foot soldiers, are well looked after.

The military may have taken a dislike to the play, due to its anti war nature and how Sherriff seems to be questioning the authority of high command and why the soldiers follow orders without a second thought. A lack of sympathy would have been shown by the military for the characters who suffered psychological illnesses. Sherriff did not intend the play to be anti war, yet was presented this way by the plays producer, who was known for having an anti war view. Sheriff’s aim was to let the war speak and expose the truths of it.

A feminist may say that there are no female characters within the play, and that the only females that are mentioned are objectified and will always be waiting for their husbands when they return from the war. They would say the lack of females could mean that the play could not show the coping strategies of humans, and that it does not fully represent their weaknesses. Sherriff claimed that the play was intended to “let the war speak”, yet the lack of female characters within the play means that it can not show the effect the war had on women.

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