The relationship between Rivers and Sassoon is one that greatly develops through this novel and this development begins in this extract. At first Sassoon is just another client to Rivers. He has been told to convince Sassoon to retract his statement and return to the war and this is what Rivers intends to do. He treats Sassoon as he does any other patient, the first thing he does is analyse. On meeting Sassoon, the first thing he notes is his,
“Pale skin, [and the] purple shadows under [his] eyes” and how, “Apart from that, [there is] no other sign of nervous disorder”
Evidence that Rivers is only interested in Sassoon as a client. During their meeting, Rivers jokes,
“One of the nice things about serving afternoon tea is that it made so many neurological tests redundant.”
Which reveals his character as a very judgmental man but it seems that he is only this way because of his profession, something he takes very seriously as shown by his reference to it,
“But one of the paradoxes of being an army psychiatrist is that you don’t actually get very far by ordering your patients to be frank.”
It is obvious that Rivers is very experienced and the fact that Rivers tries to ‘read’ every move Sassoon makes and analyse it for signs of neurasthenia shows that analysing people is very much a part of his nature. He spends a lot of their meeting asking him questions and trying to understand Sassoon’s motives which is partly to do with his profession and partly to do with his nature.
Sassoon, however, seems a very confident character. He has no problem answering Rivers’ questions and stating his view, which is the reason he is at Craig Lockhart in the first place. Unlike most of River’s other patients Sassoon answers Rivers honestly, is compliant and acknowledges that Rivers is in control. Despite having unorthodox views, Sassoon is not afraid to tell Rivers what he thinks which highlights his comfort with him. This fact is highlighted because at first Sassoon stutters and is uncomfortable but Rivers is able to make him talk to him by relating relate to Sassoon and openly talking to him about why he is in Craig Lockhart and his plans for him sometimes as an equal rather than as a patient. Sassoon seems a very likeable character and unlike the other meetings we encounter with Rivers, this one isn’t riddled with silences.
In fact, despite the fact that through the extract Rivers continues to analyse Sassoon, they soon become comfortable with each other. Rivers seem to understand Sassoon and becomes convinced that he does not suffer the War Neurosis. He seems to take their relationship further than that of a patient to their doctor. An example is when Sassoon asks if crossing his dreams with reality is abnormal and Rivers answers,
“I hope not, it happens to me all the time”
When compared to Rivers’ relationship with his other patients their relationship seems a very familiar and friendly one.
Although they joke with each other and seem familiar, but they are both still aware of their positions and duties. Rivers tells Sassoon,
“You realise it’s my duty to try and change [your anti war neurosis]? I can’t pretend to be neutral” to which Sassoon replies,
“No, of course not” after a glance that,
“takes in both their uniforms.”
Which shows that even though they become comfortable, their relationship still remains professional and stoic as Pat Barker highlights that stereotypically the relationship between men is generally a stagnant one. A stereotype that has to be established in the early relationship of Rivers and Sassoon in order for a contrast to be made between their later relationship. Rivers acknowledges that Sassoon is a very complex man and despite having personal chemistry with him, he is still always aware that he has a task to complete which involves changing Sassoon’s views and beliefs.
In conclusion, this first meeting is a foundation for the relationship between Rivers and Sassoon which later develops into one of trust and friendship despite the fact that Rivers is a therapist and Sassoon, his subject.