The men’s madness is now so grave that they are now blaming the wind for their own misfortune and psychological problems; this is ironic as the weather, eventually, kills them as they all suffer from hypothermia. Also, the idea the bullets being fired at them are ‘less deadly than the air’ shows that waiting in the trench and getting cold is more dangerous than the fighting itself. This highlights the theme of the futility of war in that it would be more worthwhile to go into battle and eventually be shot down and die than die from the treacherous weather conditions.
The metaphor ‘winds that knive us’ could perhaps be referring to the idea of hand-to-hand combat, which was a common factor in the First World War. However, in this poem the men are trying to fight the wind in a metaphorical way and the wind appears to be beating them as ‘it’ has just ‘knived them’. Owen’s use of nature being ‘against’ the men is effective as he highlights the futility of war; the men do not die from fighting in battle but in fact die from hypothermia, caused from being too cold; dying from cold in a trench and not actually going into battle is a pointless and futile death.
Owen introduces his questioning of a Christian God and the idea of an afterlife; in ‘Spring Offensive’ he reveals, perhaps, the most poignant horror of war. Repetition throughout ‘Exposure’ is used coming at the end of most stanzas in the poem, ‘But nothing happens’.
The idea of an afterlife is completely dismissed in ‘Exposure’, which was a contrast to public belief at the time. People during the period of the war believed that there was an afterlife; this was a consolatory myth so that the public did not feel bad that the soldiers were dying pointlessly and that they were, in their belief, going to a Christian ‘Heaven’.
Owen disagreed with this view. His use of the line ‘But nothing happens’ is effective because it shows that when the men die, they simply die; there is no ‘Heaven’ or in fact ‘Hell’ as people would have liked to think. This perhaps shows the most poignant horror of war, the futility of war. Also, the idea that ‘the doors are closed’ on the men means that they can never return to their lives back home, return like they were before the war at least. It appears that the men are simply going to die at war and waste the lives they had built up for themselves at home.
Another interpretation the reader also gets from the poem is backed up by another line in the same stanza, ‘Slowly our ghosts drag home’, which could suggest that they will return home but will be a shadow of their former selves as they many be both physically and mentally wounded from the goings on in the war. On the other hand, their ‘ghosts’ going home may be the men dead and returning to their homes as a ghost. In the second from last stanza in the poem the idea that the men have wasted their lives and are not going to an afterlife is revisited, ‘Therefore were born’.
My interpretation of this line is that were the men really only made for war? If so, Owen has shown that war is futile and pointless, which in turn could suggest that life is futile and pointless. Owen’s personal belief that war is futile is put to use at great strength in ‘Exposure’ as it reveals the most poignant horror of war, the futility of it all; the idea of an all-loving God is shown to be non-existent as surely this ‘God’ would stop war from ever happening.
Owen shows death in ‘Exposure’ to be unnatural and dark and also shows that the men have to face the horrors of war without being able to do anything about it. The idea of death is introduced with ‘the air that shudders black with snow’ and the passivity to it all as they ‘watch them’ and observe the ‘wind’s nonchalance’. The idea of the air shuddering ‘black with snow’ is a powerful oxymoron. Black is usually associated with death and the previous ideas that the weather (snow/wind) will eventually kill the men link in effectively to make the snow seem unnatural as it is usually white.
These new, unusual coloured snowflakes fall and the men ‘watch them’; they are passive like in ‘Spring Offensive where the men ‘stood still’; the wind and snow is ‘attacking them’ and slowly killing them but they are unable to fight it, as you cannot fight nature. They also observe the wind’s nonchalance, which is a good use of personification, as they believe the wind does not care and the men feel that the wind is against them.
This could suggest that in this mental state the men are in they perhaps feel that the their real enemy is not in fact the Germans but the nature itself, as it poses more of a threat. Owen successfully shows death to be unnatural and shows the horrors the men face from nature are worse than actually fighting on the front line, which in turn starts to show war itself as unnatural. In ‘Spring Offensive’ Owen first shows nature to be nurturing but throughout the poem shows that is perhaps ‘against’ the men, shows contrast within the poem and is a macrocosm for the men themselves, which is horrific in itself.
Near the beginning of the poem it starts off with descriptions such as ‘May breeze’ and ‘buttercups blessed’ but then changes to descriptions such as ‘whole sky burned’ and ‘cold gust’, for example. ‘May breeze’ provokes the reader into thinking about something fresh and new and nothing sinister like war. Nature is also trying ‘to warn’, Owen’s main objective through his poems, the men about what is to come (death) and trys to stop them, ‘Clutching and clung to them like sorrowing arms’; this shows nature to be nurturing and caring.
However, Owen soon leaves this idea and shows nature to appear to be ‘against’ the men as the ‘whole sky burned’. This could be due to shellfire and suggest the idea of a ‘hell on earth’. Also, the use of pathetic fallacy with the use of a ‘cold gust’ shows that what is going on in the battle and the mood in battle is reflected in the sky. The idea I got from this series of events was that although nature is ‘helping’ the men in small ways, such as trying to ‘stop’ them from going into battle, it is also against them in other ways; it has good and bad sides to it, much like the men themselves.
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