In this essay, I will be writing about how R.C Sheriff creates a moving ending to his play and all the techniques and methods he uses to do this.
I thought the ending of the play was very sad because Raleigh who has been a friendly, kind man throughout the play tragically dies fighting in the war. Another reason why I found it very sad is because it reflects all the young innocent people that died during the war.
Throughout the play, the audience see Stanhope in many different lights. Early in the play, Osborne considers Stanhope as being ‘the best commander we’ve got’. However, the impact of war changes Stanhope and Hardy contradicts Osborne when he says ‘Drinking like a fish as usual?’ pointing out the fact that Stanhope is an alcoholic.
In this scene, we see Stanhope acting the opposite to what Osborne considers him as being. Stanhope is rude about other soldiers. He talks about Hibbert calling him ‘another worm trying to wriggle home’ because he is trying to go home.
One person in particular who experiences Stanhope in many different lights is Raleigh. Raleigh knew Stanhope before he joined the army as he was in a relationship with Raleigh’s sister Madge. Raleigh worshipped Stanhope and classed him as a hero as he had received a military cross. When Raleigh requests to join the same battalion as Stanhope without him knowing, he sees Stanhope as a changed person and an alcoholic. Stanhope also acts rude towards Raleigh and does not act pleased to see him when he enters the trench.
Halfway through the story, Raleigh writes a letter home to Madge. However, Stanhope comes across worried when he says to Osborne ‘”He’ll write and tell her I reek of whisky all day”. Stanhope asks Raleigh to see the letter but Raleigh refuses. Stanhope becomes very angry and is nasty to Raleigh and shouts ‘Do you understand an order? Give me that letter!’ as he thinks the letter is about him.
When Stanhope reads the letter, and realises that it’s about him being a hero, he doesn’t feel bad for treating Raleigh (somebody who worships him) unkindly, instead he embarrasses him and mocks his letter by saying “Yes, I’m a hero” sarcastically because Stanhope does not class himself as being a hero.
Therefore, in this scene, the readers see Stanhope as a rude, disrespectful man who is an alcoholic.
In the last scene however, the audience and Raleigh see Stanhope in a completely different light and we see his caring, loving side. When the Sergeant Major tells Stanhope that Raleigh has been hit, Stanhope is very shocked and shouts “What! Bring him down here – Quickly!” This shows that Stanhope does care for Raleigh after all because he is bothered that he is injured. Stanhope then repeats himself saying “Bring him down here!” which shows that he is panicking and is worried. Stanhope comes across as being very considerate and caring towards Raleigh. He says to the sergeant major “Go at once and bring two men with a stretcher”. This shows that he is prepared to risk other people’s lives to save Raleigh’s. I think that Stanhope feels guilty that he has treated him badly when Raleigh has always worshipped him, so this is only chance he has to repay him and act like the hero that Raleigh sees him as.
I think Stanhope is a good and bad leader in the last scene because he looks after Raleigh and stays with him until he dies making sure he is ok and talking to him like a friend which he has not done throughout the rest of the play. It shows this when he calls him for the first time by his first name ‘Jimmy’, instead of calling him by his surname which is a formal way of calling somebody if you do not know them very well.
Although he acts a good leader towards Raleigh when he is injured, before he knew that Raleigh had been injured, he lets down the rest of his battalion because he should be out there fighting along side them, but instead he sits in the trench. He snaps at Hibbert and says “You’re trying to waste as much time as you can” when Hibbert avoids going out to fight. This shows Stanhope is contradicting himself because he is the one wasting time sitting in the trench whilst everybody else is fighting and a good leader would have gone out and fought besides them.
When the dugout collapses at the very end of the play, it is very sad because there are no soldiers in sight and the area looks destroyed.
This leaves us with the impression that everybody had died.
In the last scene, the phrase ‘a very faint rose light is beginning to glow in the dawn sky’ symbolises a light of hope for Raleigh. However this could also symbolise Raleigh in the sky going to heaven. The colour ‘rose’ could also suggest the sky is turning red which could symbolize the anger of the soldiers who are innocently dieing.
Red is also a colour of love, which could show the relationship between Stanhope and Raleigh in the final scene, similar to a relationship of a father and son.
Later on in the scene, ‘the faint rosy glow of the dawn sky is deepening to an angry red’. This could show that the war is now becoming fiercer and more people are loosing their lives.
The phrase ‘The grey night sky is dissolving, and the stars begin to go’. The word ‘stars’ in this sentence has two meanings; a star in the sky and a star as a person. For every star that fades away in the sky could symbolise a star/war hero dying.
The use of ‘the solitary candle-flame’ towards the end of the play symbolises Raleigh’s life. When the candle was glowing brightly, it suggests there could have been hope for Raleigh but when the candle goes out, it represents the end of his life.
I think that this play is an anti-war play because you are constantly reminded of death and shown the effects the war had on the soldiers throughout the play. The end part of the play really makes you feel emotional because R.C Sheriff leaves us thinking that everybody has died, which makes me personally think, what the point of the war was if most people died.
The last scene shows us the courage of Raleigh. He says “but I – I can’t go home just for – for a knock in the back.” This shows that he was still prepared to fight for his country right up until he dies. I think this attitude represents all the brave, courageous young soldiers who died fighting during the war.
I do not think Sheriff wanted to make the play to encourage people to join the army, I think he made it for the complete opposite reason; to show people what it would really be like living in a trench and the possibility of dying. I also believe that Sheriff created the story based on his own personal experiences as a young captain during World War I. He was severely injured during the war and was awarded the military cross. Although R.C Sheriff survived the war, he would have known young innocent people like himself who died.
Living in the trenches, the impacts of war and people dieing must have affected Sheriff like it does to Stanhope in the story. I feel that R.C Sheriff portrays the character Stanhope because they both found ways of controlling their emotions and taking their mind off death and the war, Sheriff did this by writing stories and Stanhope did this by drinking alcohol.
In conclusion, I think the play should have been made because all the people who died during the war should be remembered as heroes and making a book about the war is a great way of telling the story to future generations, as the heroes who fought during the war should always be remembered. It is also a good way of educating people about the war.
However I do not think Sheriff should have made the story during the war because males in Britain had no choice in joining the army and if they read this book, it would have certainly made them feel even more scared and worried, as it is a very emotional story. This story is also likely to upset the families who lost their loved ones in the war and bring back bad memories for the people who fought in the war and survived.