Sassoon titles his poem “The Hero,” so the reader assumes the poem will praise a soldier’s courage, however, the title deceives the reader as it is about a mother praises her son, fed by the lies of the military and government. The writer uses rhyming couplets and also some other rhyming patterns.
In the very first sentence, Sassoon highlights one of the main issues with the war. In the line, “Jack fell as he’d have wished,” reveals a delusion on not only the mother’s side but also on society’s. No one wishes to die violently, especially not in a war, and believing that they do makes parents send their children off blindly to the violence occurring on the front line. The mother in the story and many others of this time and place had been brought up to be patriotic and to respect authority, and so it would have been very unlikely that these mothers would have protested against the war as they felt it was a patriotic duty of their son. Later on in stanza two, it says, “her glorious boy.” This again references the idea that volunteering for the war is something to aim towards and is a noble thing to do.
By capitalizing “Mother”, Sassoon makes her not only the soldier’s mother but also makes her a personification of Britain and it’s soldiers, her children. Therefore, Sassoon is suggesting that it is Britain that is deluding itself about it’s ‘children’. She, “folded up the letter,” which suggests she resigns herself to the lie she has been fed, saying “the Colonel writes so nicely”. Here, the Colonel manages to lull the mother into a false sense of comfort by wrapping up a horrible truth in nice words. Officers twisted stories about soldier’s death during this time to keep moral and hope up at home.
When the mother, “bowed” her head, she takes the pose as if she has been defeated. Her body language and the way her voice began to, “choke,” suggest that although she tells everyone she is proud of her son and the way he died, she may have wished that she never encouraged him to sign up as she missed him so much. However, maybe the mother took pleasure and ‘joy’ in the way ‘her glorious boy’ had gone, as if some of his bravery reflects back onto her.
In the second stanza, the brother officer doesn’t want to upset the mother by telling her the painful truth about how her son died, but Sassoon himself wants to make sure that his own readers understand that World War I is not a glorious affair. He and Owen were two famous World War I poets that wanted to make people back in Britain aware that they were often being lied to by military authorities and government officials.
The Brother Officer is made part of the family, which again makes reference to Britain as a whole. The country is presented as a big family, suggesting that every loss of life, is a personal loss to Britain. This made the mothers, sisters and wives of the fallen soldiers feel their solider remembered and appreciated. Sassoon here may have been trying to convey his feeling that the war and the loss of lives was pointless. Women were happy to commemorate their soldier when they had been remembered as a hero, but what if the brother officer had told the truth about Jack? Would the mother still be as strong and happy about the war if she found out her son was a, “cold-footed, useless swine”?
Sassoon suggests that the soldier wasn’t comfortable or secure with the lie, when he describes that he ‘coughed and mumbled’, suggests that maybe not all military officials were happy with lying to relatives of the soldier.
We can assume that the soldier in the poem is called Jack, however by putting his name in quotation marks, it allows him to act as a representation for many other soldiers in World War I. This de-personifies him and makes him just another pointless death as a result of the war. The message the mother was given about the death of Jack is different from what is given to the readers. Jack had tried to injure himself in order to be, “sent home.” Instead of dying a hero and being admired by all, he died alone and miserable. Sassoon again tries to show that death on the battle field is not a glorious duty, but a lonely and terrifying thing; an ordeal that men should not be ostracised about and made to feel guilty and cowardly.
The poem also makes you feel empathy for the old woman because you know the truth and the lies she is being told. This is a clever technique from Sassoon; if she just knew the truth about how her son Jack had died, how he had, “panicked down the trench,” and how he just eventually died, you would not feel sympathy for the old woman.
The last two lines, “And no one seemed to care/Except that lonely woman with white hair,” are extremely powerful, especially the use of the rhyming couplet to end it. The women who are left behind alone, since all the men are off to war, are ageing with sorrow. Sassoon is considered one of the great War Poets because of the reality of the War he reveals in his poetry. Similarly to Wilfred Owen, he reveals the disconnect between the truth in the trenches and the truth at home. His poem leaves it perfectly in the middle where the blame could possibly lie.
While Jack lied about getting injured, and the Brother Officer lied to the mother, the newspapers are also lying to the people back in Britain. Propaganda was used back home to try and keep morale up and justify the war. Sassoon was a big critic of the way propaganda was falsely influencing the people, and the rest of the poem serves to underline the falseness behind official communication.
Overall, Sassoon clearly portrays the death, and pain associated with war. He also shows the fear related with fighting through Jack’s attitude in the poem.
Courtney from Study Moose
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