Explore the Ways Sheriff Presents Social class for Dramatic Effects in ”Journeys End” Essay Sample
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‘Journeys End’, first produced in 1928, is a play which portrays a fairly realistic, picture of the front line in the First World War, as it was based on R.C Sherriff’s experiences as an officer in the East Surrey Regiment. However, the novel ‘Regeneration’ published in 1991, is based on Pat Barkers research of authentic documents, such as letters, diaries and reports which shows a graphic description of the suffering endured by men in the trenches, focusing on their physical and psychological damage.
In comparing a novel and a play, we can identify certain features of the genres. In the drama text ‘Journey End’, Sherriff creates a strong visual impact. When the characters are introduced he has to quickly demonstrate key features of their personality in order to capture the audiences’ interest and help them to recognize different types of officers. He achieves this through stage directions and dialogue. However, in ‘Regeneration’ Barker uses detailed narrative to portray her characters which can help the reader build up an understanding of their problems, as the story progresses.
Social Class is an important theme throughout both texts and through the presentation of this theme; we see diversity in the two writers’ views of social class. In ‘Journey’s End’ Sherriff uses the character of Trotter to present the situation of a NCO, who has risen from the ranks; although as an officer, he does not share the same social background as the other central characters. However, Sherriff does not seem particularly interested in exploring issues of social division. Instead he presents Trotter as a comical character with very little psychological depth.
Pat Barker, on the other hand, shows a significant interest in matters of social division, in the war and considers the situation of a character, such as Prior a young man of a working class origin who entered the war as an officer and has to face the prejudices of those from more privileged backgrounds.
In Sherriff’s stage directions, the characters of the upper class, for example, Stanhope, a highly courageous captain and the NCO Trotter are contrasted to show the distinction between their social class. Whereas Stanhope is described as good looking -‘tall, slimly built with broad shoulders’ Trotter is described as ‘middle aged and homely looking’. In addition, ‘his face is red, fat and round’ and ‘his tunic appears to be bursting at the waist’. This seems to exemplify Sherriff’s belief in the superiority from those of a more privileged background and immediately allows the audience to recognize Trotter as an ordinary working man, a decent soldier but not a potential hero.
Furthermore, Trotters cockney dialect distinguishes him from the other officers in the dugout as he drops his ‘Hs’, uses non-standard grammar like ‘ain’t’ and slang such as ‘skipper’ instead of captain. Trotter’s language is generally very basic and is mostly centered on food, rather than worrying about the progress of the war. This breaks the tension and adds humor, for instance when he describes the stew made by a former cook: “thin! Thin wasn’t the word. Put a bucket full of ‘is stew in a bath and pull the plug and the whole lot will go down in a couple of gurgles” His down to earth nature and unconscious humor is seen in lines such as, “You must have pepper in soup!”
The picture being built up is that Trotter is a very simple person and
this reflects the stereotype of that time which presented working class people as less intelligent.
Stanhope’s attitude can be compared with the discussion between Dr Rivers and Prior, in ‘Regeneration’ which emphasizes specific examples of “snobbery” and expresses a degree of bias in the attitude of the officers from privileged classes. Barker creates a situation where we can distinguish the attitude of a highly educated army captain compared to an “uncooperative” second-lieutenant who is well aware of class divisions as he himself is of a working class background. When we are first introduced to Prior we are aware of his mute condition, as he is unable to communicate throughout his meeting with Dr Rivers; in an attempt to take some control, he writes “THERE’S NOTHING PHYSICALY WRONG…” Rivers reaction is shown to be extremely patronizing, when he corrects Priors spelling: “Two L’s in ‘physically’, Mr Prior.” Prior naturally resents this and later on River himself referrers to it as “insufferable”. This again creates an example of the class divisions between those of lower classes, within both texts.
In addition, Barker uses the character of, Prior to illustrate class prejudice at the front. We become aware of Prior’s view towards class inequality, as he expresses his thoughts and feelings in response to the question asked by Rivers. “How did you fit in?” Prior’s interpretation clearly indicates his objections towards social class. “It helps if you’ve been to the right school…It helps if your shirts are the right colour. Which is a deep shade of khaki, by the way.” In this phrase, it almost appears as though Sherriff is implying that in order to gain respect,
R.C Sherriff has presented other characters, such as Trotter for example, who is considered as an, unintelligent character, who cannot appreciate the finer and more sophisticated things in life. “I never knew a war for upsetting meals!” Stanhope illustrates a simple example of how characters, such as Trotter are identified for their simplistic behavior. When we become aware of Stanhope mocking Trotter, we can clearly distinguish the attitude developed between fellow soldiers, in spite of class division. “He won’t see the point. He’s no imagination.” Here, Stanhope has referred to Trotters drawing of circles, which he used to count down the days of the war. Osborne then continued, “I don’t suppose he has.”
Trotter appears to us as a superior character to Hibbert, taking the role of an NCO, however is upbringing is of a working class background. Throughout the play there is one conflicting moment within the hierarchy of characters where, for example, Trotter looks down upon Hibbert who is actually of a higher class than himself. “Funny a bloke carries pictures around like this. Satisfies ‘is lust, I ‘spose – poor little feller.” Sherriff clearly knows that although Trotter is believed to be a less cultured character, which tends to reflect himself towards the attributes of War.
Throughout the play we gain an insight of the shared background between officers such as Raleigh and Stanhope. This is established through their conversations concerning school. Stanhope is considered as one of the best infantry commanders, ‘ He’s a long way the best company commander we’ve got’ he was additionally a house prefect. Raleigh however, attended school with Stanhope, who is referred to as a “hero-worshipper”.
Furthermore, there is the use of depiction of the different ranks in command, as the Colonel seems mainly interested in pleasing the Brigadier; Stanhope, a captain, is deeply shocked by the loss in action of Osbourne, his reliable second in command. Raleigh, a new lieutenant, is also shocked by the experience of fighting. Although abrupt in tone when addressing him, Stanhope is clearly closer to Raleigh than to the Colonel because of their shared experience. Bitterness in Stanhope’s tone also shows the emotionally trembling effect of warfare.
When we notice Trotter talking of “that gas that smells like pear-drops” this is a representation as to how we interpret Trotter, and therefore indicates him as an inferior intellectual character in comparison to the other well educated upper class officers.
Trotter seems almost unaffected by the war; alternatively he concentrates upon his daily routine of eating, standing on duty and writing letters home to his wife. When Stanhope asks Trotter about his consistent cheerfulness “I envy you Trotter Nothing upsets you does it? You’re always the same.” Trotters, short, noncommittal response makes it clear that Stanhope is wrong “Always the same am I? (He sighs). Little you know…”
As we read through both, Regeneration and Journeys End, we clearly notice the social division of characters, as they develop throughout both texts. This is reflected through the way in which the characters upbringing is presented, as well as other additional facts. Evidently, we see that R.C Sherriff has presented his play in order to create a presentation of dramatic affects; where the viewers are then draw to consider the social division, in comparison to Pat Barkers interest in social class.
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