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How Sassoon Captures the Brutality, Futility and Horror of Trench Warfare Towards His Audiences Essay

“I am not protesting against the conduct of the war, but against the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed.” – Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon was a well known English poet who had gained recognition by writing about his experiences in the trenches as a soldier during WWI. Sassoon uses his experience to express the suffering he had undertaken on the battlefield which were described as brutalising, horrific and an unjustifiable waste of human lives. Thus it is through these practices that allow Sassoon to capture the brutality, futility and horror of trench warfare towards his audiences. Throughout all the works of Sassoon, four poems have stood out to demonstrate these three themes. Brutality being illustrated through ‘Counter Attack’ and ‘Suicide in the Trenches’, ‘ The Hero’ and ‘Does it Matter?’ demonstrating futility whilst ‘‘Counter Attack’ and ‘Suicide in the Trenches’ expressing horror.

Brutality – the trait of extreme cruelty. ‘Counter Attack’ illustrates brutality through the quote “And butchered, frantic gestures of the dead,” a hyperbole and metaphor has been used to create this ferocious scene. Juxtaposition has also been used to express the soldiers’ movements’ in contrast to those from the dead. With the use of these techniques it allows the audience to visualise the brutal aftermath of an all too common battle. “Down, and down, and down, he sank and drowned,” repetition of the word ‘down’ has been employed emphasising the soldiers’ brutal death as well as generating harsh, visual imagery. In ‘Suicide in the Trenches’, the statement “The hell where youth and laughter go,” juxtaposition is utilised to reveal that war is of horror and viciousness which is comparable to hell in taking away the innocence of soldiers. Also, “He put a bullet through his brain,” Sassoon has made this statement extremely direct and clinical giving it a dramatic effect when reading.

There is the use of vivid imagery which assists in displaying the brutal reality of men in the trenches where they would commit suicide just to escape war. Futility – the quality of having no useful result, useless/lack of importance or purpose. Within the poem ‘The Hero’, quotes “And no one seemed to care except that lonely woman with white hair,” and “We mothers are so proud of our dead soldiers,” emotive language has taken place in these 2 statements enabling the audience to realize how futile war was back then because once the soldiers fought and died, no-one seemed to care that they had given up their lives. “He thought how ‘Jack’, cold-footed, useless swine.” A metaphor has been applied to the words ‘cold-footed’ to give an idea that the solider was being compared to a hopeless pig along with the fact he was scared and a coward when going to fight.

Thus this portrays futility by describing how the soldier was picked to fight for his country but lacked off – not being useful when needed. Although in the poem, ‘Does it Matter?’ this phrase has been repeated a number of times all through the poem through the utilisation of a rhetorical question inquiring the audience if going to war and fighting for your country really mean anything. As well as, a sarcastic tone has been put in place due to the questions that Sassoon asks his audiences are bizarre, such as, “Does it matter? – losing your legs?” and “Does it matter? – losing your sight?” It is through these quotes and techniques that allow Sassoon to emphasise on the theme of futility and how once you fight for your country and come into contact with all sorts of injuries, no one really cares – hence conveying the message it was pointless to go to war and a waste of time. Horror – an intense feeling of fear, shock or disgust. In the poem ‘Counter Attack’, the line “Bullets spat”, personification has been applied to give audiences an unpleasant image of war. Onomatopoeia has been employed to add sound effects along with creating scenery and surroundings of where the soldiers fought. It is with these techniques that the theme horror is generated as audiences would fear where the bullets would hit them – bullets coming from all different directions.

Furthermore, “Wallowed like trodden sand-bags loosely filled,” a simile has been engaged here to compare the soldiers to sand bags that roll loosely when fighting. Consequently, this highlights horror to Sassoon’s audiences as he wanted to fright and remind his audience of how rough the circumstances were of where the soldiers fought. Throughout the poem ‘Suicide in the Trenches’, the line “Slept soundly through the lonesome dark,” personification is adopted by constructing a lonely and isolated background on top of symbolising fear due to soldiers sleeping by themselves in the trenches and do not know what will happen – if they will wake up dead or alive.

“With crumps and lice and lack of rum,” the word ‘and’ uses repetition when listing the endless, disastrous events that Sassoon went through. Imagery has also been exploited to show the bad conditions of the trenches back then. Therefore, horror has been depicted from the bad conditions Sassoon had to live in as a result revolting audiences. It is through these works of Sassoon that has given us and insight and understanding of what war was like back then. Through the numerous techniques used by Sassoon it has allowed us, as an audience to understand and empathise with Sassoon about the brutalising and horrifying circumstances of war.


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