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Journey’s End and the Accrington Pals – Class System Essay

Explore the ways in which the class system is exposed in both Journey’s End and The Accrington Pals. How far do you agree that Sherriff explores this aspect in his play more successfully than Whelan? The theme of class is one that is important in both R. C. Sherriff’s Journey’s End and Peter Whelan’s The Accrington Pals. Class is explored through the use of characterisation, setting, structure, dialogue and also political ideologies. Both Sherriff and Whelan may have chosen to develop the class system to emphasise the change it has undergone since the war ended.

The Accrington Pals is a modern novel, first performed in 1982. As well as portraying the political views of the time, there are also echoes of Thatcherism. Whelan shows this conservative ideology through the character of May. May is a working-class stall owner who aspires to be middle-class and has middle-class ideals “they’re just waiting to see you stumble, slip back and be as they are. In the end it’s just you…yourself. We don’t create the rules of life. They’re there. ” The same ideologies are hinted at in Sherriff’s Journey’s End.

There were few plays written during the 1920’s that commented on political and social events and not a lot were very successful. Sherriff said in his autobiography that his characters were ‘simple, unquestioning men who fought the war because it seemed the only right and proper thing to do … (it was a play) in which not a word was spoken against the war … and no word of condemnation was uttered …’ What he hoped to do was to show ‘how men really lived in the trenches, how they talked and how they behaved. ’ Although unintentional there is clear class distinction and, like The Accrington Pals, a conservative ideology.

In both plays there are clear divisions between the middle and working classes, this is shown through characterisation. Sherriff exposes the class system through the use of his characterisation of the officers and serving soldiers, he portrays the officers as being from the middle-class, public school section of society. For example, Raleigh is a public schoolboy who is, ”just out from England”. He is also the only officer there who has “never been up on the line before.

Due to his class, he is immediately instigated as an officer and therefore as a lot in common with the other officers in the dugout. He speaks with a Received Pronunciation accent (Queen’s English) and uses a lot of sporting idioms “He was a skipper of rugger at Barford, and kept wicket for the eleven. A jolly good bat, too. ” The use of the sporting language here is closely associated with an education in a public school. Raleigh’s enthusiasm when speaking of his school days also emphasises his inexperience with war and the effect it has on people. This is a huge contrast to the character of Tom in The Accrington Pals, who is a working-class boy that lodges with May.

Like Raleigh he is inexperienced with the workings of war. He studied at an art school and before joining the Pals, was an apprenticed lithographer and helped May run her stall. He has socialist and progressive views, which contrast greatly with the conservative ideals of Journey’s End. “It’s a free exchange of skills…of produce of hand or brain. That’s what’s needed. Not money. ” Whelan may have drawn inspiration for the character of Tom from the Russian revolution of 1917 that lead to the monarchy falling and a provisional government being elected.

It was dubbed the ‘socialist revolution’ and Tom shares similar ideals to the Russian working-class. Setting is an important form which exposes the class system. In Journey’s End, although the characters are no longer at home, they are served three-course meals and are waited on by servants. The officers are treated differently to the soldiers and still live in a similar manner they were accustomed to back home. For example, there is an incident in the play where Mason, the officers’ cook, forgets to pack the pepper in the mess box.

The soldiers tell him to fetch someone get the pepper because “war’s bad enough with pepper – but war without pepper – it’s – it’s bloody awful! ” Trotter’s uniform is also rather small suggesting he has put on weight and has been eating well, unlike the ordinary soldiers who eat bread and cheese. Although the officers are eating well, the food they have is questionable “What kind of soup is this, Mason? It’s yellow soup, sir. It’s got a very deep yellow flavour. ” Their living conditions are not very habitable either.

When Hardy is showing Osborne the dugout he explains how the beds are in poor condition “The ones in the other dugout haven’t got any bottoms to them. You keep yourself in by hanging your arms and legs over the sides. Mustn’t hang your legs too low, or the rats gnaw your boots. ” The dugout is described in a warren-like way which makes the audience feel claustrophobic, “Two officers in here, and three in there. [He points to the right-hand tunnel. ]” The small setting allowed him to include extremes of emotion. In stressful situations, strained emotions are to be expected.

In creating a play which leapt from high drama to calm, Sherriff showed a true understanding of human psychology and of the war itself. The main areas of setting in The Accrington Pals are May’s stall and her kitchen in her home, but other locations (such as Sarah’s backyard and the recruitment office) are also used. Some scenes cross-fade into each other, suggesting there are connections between the two scenes – for example, Act Two, Scene one, which begins with Ralph and Eva both lit on stage, Ralph being close to the front lines in in France and Eva in May’s kitchen.

This scene isn’t just marked by the lighting change but also the change in sound, from the machine guns giving way to the sewing machines whirring. “The light on Ralph fades. There is more light on Eva who begins to work on the dress with a sewing machine. The sound of the sewing machine rises above the fading away of the machine guns. ” One of Whelan’s qualities is the ability to give an impression of reality in the play with his use of, setting, lighting and sound. Journey’s End takes part over the space of four days and is presented in three acts.

There is a very limited and confined time span and claustrophobic setting. The play is linked by a series of almost unrelated scenes; the disorganised nature of the play reflects the state of war; it has a jerky feel about it, where events do need lead on neatly or naturally onto the next. The play includes a number of complications, moments of drama and an exploration of the characters’ reactions and relationships showing the conditions of the war, leaving the audience to come to their own conclusions about the abrupt ending.

These complications lead to mini climaxes all throughout the play, for example Raleigh’s letter in Act Two at the end of Scene 1. Stanhope confiscates a letter from Raleigh insisting on his right to censor it. Stanhope is in a relationship with Raleigh’s sister and is worried that, in the letter, Raleigh will reveal Stanhope’s growing alcoholism. He is surprised to find that the letter is full of praise for him, “He hardly ever sleeps in the dugout; he’s always up in the front line with the men, cheering them on with jokes, and making them keen about things, like he did the kids at school. This complication is resolved however and the play moved on to its next complication: the raid.

The use of Mason as a character is to provide moments of light relief to the audience. “There was a bit of lean in the middle of yours, sir, but it’s kind of shrunk up in the cooking. ” He brings a sense of normality to the war around them. The structure of The Accrington Pals is slightly different. It is split into two acts, with ten scenes in Act One and eight in Act Two and takes place over the space of two years (1914 to 1916).

The play begins with the central relationship of Tom and May. Gradually as the play moves on May becomes the centre of the play. The relationship between Tom and May is then compared to the physical one of Ralph and Eva, whom may envies for her instinctive qualities. Throughout the play may increasing isolates herself from the people around her, for example ordering both Tom (Act One, Scene Six) and Eva (Act Two, Scene Six) from her home. It is almost as though she would prefer the safety and consistency of life alone to that of an intimate relationship.

The final scene with Eva and Reggie suggests that May with accept life and carry on “I need you to put me right. ” Whelan also applies film techniques to the play. The technique in Act Two, Scene Seven by which reality fades into May’s dream or nightmare as it may be, is very similar to what you would find in a film. The fluency of the scene enabled Whelan to develop a dialectic structure in which the scenes are viewed in relation to each other.


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