The Corruption In ‘Strange Meeting` and ‘Journey`s End
Susan Hill exploits the form of the novel in ‘Strange Meeting’ to present a more moving ad sensitive depiction of the corruption of youth than R.C.Sheriff’s portrayal of this within his dramatic text ‘Journey’s End’.
How far do you agree? Strange Meeting is a novel that was first published by Susan Hill in 1971. The text powerfully depicts the emotional effect that a life in the First World War could have on youth. Strange Meeting tells the tale of two young soldiers placed in an environment that breaks people.
Hilliard is a young man who in the back story has already experienced the horrors of war; this experience has left him to be out of place in a civilian life. Susan Hill tells us of a relationship that Hilliard and his sister used to share with one another, a relationship of which meant they could rely on one another for anything. However, after being exposed to the war, the effects it can have on a person show through. He no longer feels that he can relate to her, and she sees only a different man when she looks at him now. Raleigh also the perilous effects that the war can have on a, the main character in R. C.
Sherriff’s text ‘Journey’s End’. In this text Raleigh sees a man whom he once looked up to, Stanhope, having been destroyed and turned into a drunk. This reaction to the stress of war was a common one that many men turned to in order to cope with the war- we know that in the war many of the men were young men, and this was the only way they knew would help them to fight the loss of the people they may have lived with all of their lives. Almost all of the young men serving in the war suffered mental scars, and those who survived the war would almost never wholly recover from them. This shows exactly just how devastating the front lines were.
Especially for those who were in the start of their lives, to see someone they knew come to the end of theirs so suddenly so young and in such horrific ways. We know that this was not a rare situation for people to be in; this was in fact happening on a mass scale to millions of people at a time. This shows just how insignificant the loss of life was in this time. The officers in both texts depict strong examples of the corruption of youth; however, it is hard to say which one, if any does so in a better way. An argument could be used to say that Sheriff produces a better example of how ast these effects can happen, and he does so in a very strong dramatic way. However, at the same time Susan Hill depicts the effects over a long duration of time, this is shown in a very good way at the start of the novel, when she introduces Hilliard, and says ‘He was afraid to go to sleep. For three weeks, he had been afraid of going to sleep’ this was shows how even after the war, or when a soldier left the war they were still being affected by it. This adds to the knowledge that these corruptions are not something that you can escape once they have taken effect.
Both texts show great examples of how they did not just effect the soldier himself; they in fact affected every one they came into contact with especially the soldiers they would be working with and living with as relationships swayed from hatred to that of a family member time-and-time again. More so it affected the families of the solders, as the corruption of youth, caused many families to lose the younger members of their family not always to the war its self but often to the emotional changes that the young men would go through.
A perfect example of this is in Susan Hill’s novel when we witness the destruction of a once great bond between Hilliard and his sister, all due to him wanting to block people out of his life in order to reduce the amount of loss he would face emotionally. Sheriff uses a lot of direct dialogue in order to allow the reader to feel the ups and downs that his characters were going through at the time, as well as showing how fast things could change. This meant that the audience was able to experience first-hand what was going through the mind of a soldier faced with the events that happened.
Susan Hill however, shows a more in depth look at the emotions and feelings of the men at war. In doing so the reader is able to build up a stronger relation to the characters than in Sheriff’s text, as we go through month after month of what the men are going through, seeing every change they experience and every relationship that builds and falls. Doing this allows us to see and witness the changes that the characters experience and go through, it is because of this that we are able to see the dramatic change in the relationship between Hilliard and his family in ‘Strange Meeting’ by introducing the characters to us the reader like this he allows us to become more attached to individual characters and the characters on a whole, a lot more than we are able to with ‘Journey’s End’. In addition to this, Hill is able to exploit the fact that she is using a novel, over a dramatic text in order to set up an understanding of the character and to produce character backgrounds, in doing this she is adding more purpose and meaning to the characters and the story on a whole. This helps to portray the effects that could be inflicted upon people, by showing us how people are before, during and after the war environment.
One of the main examples of the corruption of youth is the way in which the older characters react when they meet the younger newer officers serving alongside them. In ‘Journey’s End’ this is shown by the way in which Stanhope reacts to Raleigh’s arrival and presence in the trenches with him, and in ‘Strange Meeting’ it is depicted to us through Hilliard’s first impressions towards Barton. In the case of Stanhope, he meets a one former friend from school, whom he shared many experiences and who idolised him.
Seeing Raleigh causes Stanhope to realise just how much the war has changed and taken away from him, as well as the intense levels on which it has corrupted his youth. This is a great example as to just how drastic some of these corruptions could be. This being, as it shows two young men separated by only a few years of age, who at the same time are worlds apart in how they look at life. Raleigh who has a strong idealistic view of the world and Stanhope who has aged greatly passed what he should be and appears infinitely older than Raleigh, and has even descended to state which all he can do to get him through the days is drink.
This is very similar to that of Hilliard and Barton. Barton is new to the war and has yet to experience the terrors or feel the effects of the war on him; he is a younger man who is untouched by the effects of the war. Whereas Hilliard has been exposed for what to him seems like his entire life, he is no longer capable of living out a civilian life. This has hit him so hard that at the start of the novel, even having been injured and relieved of duty, he wishes for nothing less than to return to the war as he doesn’t know how to live any life without war as its focal point.
So when he meets Barton a young man who is the complete opposite to what he has become- untouched, unaffected by the war and what it can do to a person. However, all he wants is his life to be more like Hilliard. He does not realise that Hilliard does not like his life at all. Hill uses the fact that a large amount of the soldiers were uneducated or poorly educated to show Hilliard as a man who takes charge and places a great level of personal responsibility over the younger, more naive men, in this case Barton. he felt suddenly ready to defend Barton, as he might defend a younger boy at school who had blurted out something because he did not yet know the form’ this is a simile used by Hill to show just how protective and responsible he has become over the younger boy. In giving us a deeper and closer insight into his life, Hill, has been able to exploit this and show us the change that is occurring within him from the cold, emotionless person to someone who is beginning to care about this young boy.
The meeting of these two pairs and the forming of these relationships are focal points in both texts that lay down the foundations in the texts. However, the way in which the authors have chosen to depict these relationships varies in both. Susan Hill chooses to show us the bonds that grow and strengthen over time. However, in the dramatic text that Sheriff is showing us, we see just how quickly relationships can be formed in conditions such as the ones these men are facing.
This text by Sheriff also shows us how quickly a previously formed relationship can be changed, this is shown when Raleigh meets for the first time since school, his old role model Stanhope. A man who was once everything Raleigh aspired to be, but now is nothing more than a drunk. This meeting allows Stanhope to realise suddenly to just how great an extent his own youth has been corrupted, and almost destroyed. When Raleigh firs arrives her greats Stanhope, and he replies, Stanhope (In a low voice): How did you – get here?
From the patterns in Stanhope’s voice in this quotation, it suggests someone who is hesitant about the situation at hand. And to further this idea, the use of the hyphen this suggests a pause in what he is saying. This expresses his shock, and tension at the arrival of Raleigh which is rendering him almost speechless. Strange Meetings shows an impressive example of the corruption of youth within the war. This is when Raleigh has just finished his first mission as an officer in the trenches.
Osborne has just died, and to him he has just lost one of his closest friends and one of the people who he trusted his life with. As a young man who has never, and should have never, had to experience the death of one of his closest friends happening he is destroyed by this and we see a great change in him at this point in Sheriffs play as he goes from an enthusiastic young man who was proud to be a part in supporting his country at war, to a one who has under gone a sudden realisation as to just how futile his role and that of everyone around him is.
And he feels as though he is the only one that feels this way and that no one else realises this. This is an argument that takes place between Raleigh and Stanhope, after their meal following the mission. Raleigh: And yet you can sit there and drink champagne- and smoke cigars- Stanhope:the one man I could trust – my best friend – the man I could talk to man to man – who understood everything – and you think I don’t care-
This laid back approach to one of their own men and closest friends dying, allows Raleigh to realise that he is not the only one who feels this way and that in fact there are other people facing much worse situations like Stanhope, who has lost his best friend and a man who was like a brother to him. And he discovers that these men have themselves realised the loss of their youth and how it has been torn away from them and replaced with this life, filled with nothing but pain and suffering. The only way they know to cover these feelings is to drink it all away.
In conclusion, I feel each text brings its own points in expressing and depicting the corruption and deconstruction of youth in the war. Sheriff gives us a closer view into events and characters, as well as a level of intimacy that Hill’s text lacks. He gives us a sharper look and insight into these emotions that were being experienced and shared by the character, including the suffering and death. And due to this way that he has chosen to express these emotions sheriff is able to show an emotional impact that Susan Hill is just not able to achieve in the depiction of this deeply tragic and emotional theme. Word count: 2,241