Consider Two Contrasting Characters In The Play Essay
Consider Two Contrasting Characters In The Play
Consider two contrasting characters in the play. How does the playwright convey their personalities and their attitudes to the situation in which they find themselves?
The playwright of ‘The Long, the Short and the Tall’ is Willis Hall and he wrote it in 1959. The play is set in the Malaysian jungle in 1942 during the Second World War. It is about a British scout patrol, which is caught in the unexpected Japanese advance down the Malaysian peninsula. It deals with men from all over Britain, from different backgrounds and cultures, and their relationships with each other. The main issue though, is whether the men are able to kill another human being. It shows their reactions in tense and almost unreal situations.
World War Two lasted from 1939 to 1945. It was fought in two places; in Europe against Germany and in the Pacific against Japan. Britain and the USA started fighting against Japan because Japan bombed Pearl Harbour in December 1941, which had docked a whole fleet of American war ships. The British and the Americans didn’t expect the Japanese to attack, so they were not able to defend themselves.
From here Japan continued to expand into other countries. They quickly conquered South-East Asia. The next thing the Japanese did was to invade Singapore in Malaysia. Again the British were completely unprepared for the attack. All Singapore’s defences were facing into the sea, never expecting or believing that anybody would come down the peninsula, through the jungle, but this is exactly what the Japanese did. Because no one in Singapore believed that they would be attacked from the land side, all the defences were on the ocean side, to protect against a marine attack.
The Japanese were so successful because they had had better training in jungle warfare. They wore light clothing, had light ammunition and made use of bicycles for transport. This meant that they could travel great distances in a relatively short time. There wasn’t much hope for the British soldiers, who had little or no training in jungle warfare, they had heavy clothing and ammunition and no suitable transport.
Morale in the British army was very low. Most of the soldiers were conscripts who were very cynical about the ability of the generals of the army to direct the army in the right away and also because of the lack of proper training and equipment. This can be seen in the play in the way the characters talk of the radio not working. ‘Damn duff equipment’ is how Johnstone describes the radio.
To the British conscripts the Japanese army seemed invincible, with their incredibly patriotic soldiers who were prepared to die rather than surrender. The Japanese believed in the motto ‘Death before dishonour’. They seemed a completely fearless army because of this, which didn’t do the morale of the British soldiers much good.
The two contrasting characters I have chosen to look at are Bamforth and Johnstone. I have chosen Bamforth because his character changes a great deal throughout the play and his point of view moves to a different angle and I have chosen Johnstone because his character is one of the few ones, which doesn’t change much throughout the play.
Private C. Bamforth is a conscript into the British army and has been posted over to the Far East to help fight the Japanese. He is from London and is in the lowest possible rank in the army. His position is completely different from Johnstone’s. His full title is Corporal E. Johnstone. He is two above Bamforth in ranks and is part of the regular army and is not conscripted. This means that is attitude to the army is different. His attitude is much less cynical and he respects authority more, in terms of Mitchem. He is cynical in one part of the play where he becomes exasperated when the radio won’t work. ‘Damn duff equipment.
The whole damn issue’s duff.’ But overall he is much less cynical of the British army’s capabilities. On the other side Bamforth is very cynical of the British army in the way he speaks of it. He apparently quotes one of the Generals, ‘Bammo, my old son, the British army’s in a desperate situation. The yellow peril’s about to descend on us’ Here he is joking about the state of the British army, but he obviously believes it, otherwise he wouldn’t be saying it and it wouldn’t be funny. Also he makes clear that he isn’t prepared to be a hero, ‘I wasn’t meant to be a hero’ he states it clearly and decisively, which shows that he has no doubts about it.
Bamforth enjoys making fun of others especially people who can’t defend themselves very well like Whitaker and people who are of a certain area such as Wales or Scotland. He tends to generalise about people of a certain area and call them derogatory names. ‘You Scotch haggis!’, ‘you Cardiff creep’, You’re an ignorant Welsh Taff!’ He is a really unpleasant character in the beginning and obviously resents authrority; ‘Nit’ is what he says under his breath at Johnstone. Johnstone is also unpleasant in the way he threatens Bamforth, but as the person watching the play, with no knowledge of how Bamforth’s character will change, I found that I sympathised with Johnstone and felt glad that he was giving Bamforth what he deserved.
Their initial reaction was also very similar, as it was Johnstone who grabbed the prisoner and ordered one of the other men to kill him with their bayonet and Bamforth was the only other soldier who felt able to kill him. He regarded the Japanese soldier as only as important as an animal. ‘It’s only the same as carving up a pig’. The prisoner was very low in his opinion
Johnstone has very little contact with the prisoner; he only has direct contact with the prisoner when he has the argument with Bamforth over whether the prisoner should be allowed any cigarettes. He obviously has strong opinions on what should happen to the prisoner; he thinks it is a bad decision of Mitchem’s to take the prisoner back as it is too risky. He tries to argue with Mitchem that they should kill the prisoner right then, before it all got out of hand. ‘Get rid of him. Right now’
Strangely enough, it is Bamforth who befriends the prisoner and talks to him and joke with him. He even begins to regard the prisoner as almost human. ‘He’s almost human this one is!’. His opinion of the prisoner has risen from that of animal to almost human. This is because the prisoner showed him his photos of his family. He indicates that he also has a baby, this is probably why Bamforth begins to regard him with more respect. Next Bamforth offers the prisoner a cigarette, but Johnstone knocks the prisoner’s from his mouth. At once Bamforth demands an explanation from Johnstone. Here he is clearly defending the prisoner’s rights, but also I think that he argues with Johnstone just because he did something that infringed his rights.
Later on when the argument about the prisoner’s cigarette case begins, the playwright cleverly makes Bamforth leave so that the argument can progress without anyone coming to the prisoner’s defence. When Bamforth returns the argument reaches a climax; he immediately comes to the prisoner’s defence. He defends him verbally and helps the prisoner. He tells the others that he gave the prisoner the cigarettes.
This may not have been true and I don’t think that Johnstone really believed him. He is the one who asks to look at the case before it is returned to the prisoner and he starts another argument about the case. This time Bamforth does not claim to have given it to him, but turns the story back on Johnstone by making Whitaker tell the others how he has a locker full of Japanese souvenirs. He defends the prisoner all the way. This is sign that he has become really attached to the prisoner.
By the end when they have to decide whether to kill the prisoner or not, Bamforth has become very attached to the prisoner. He physically stands in-between the prisoner and Johnstone, as can be seen from the stage directions. This is a clear piece of proof that he is now prepared physically protect the prisoner not just argue for him. ‘It’s him and me’. This shows that he is saying that if they want to kill the prisoner, they will have to kill him too. Also he now expresses freely that he regard the prisoner highly. ‘He’s a man’, showing that the prisoner has earned a lot of Bamforth’s respect. Johnstone on the other hand is the one who is trying to kill the prisoner. Johnstone still thinks they should kill the prisoner and his opinion of him has not risen either, ‘It’s a bloody nip’ From this we can see that he regards him as really low because he says it instead of he and uses the derogatory term of ‘bloody nip’.
He orders Bamforth out of the way, but he will not move and appeals to each of the men in turn to help him. But each one turns him down, he appeals to Macleish last of all, probably hoping that at least he was going to help him because his brother could be a POW too. But even he does not help Bamforth. He is obviously desperate because he turns to sheer pettiness when each of the men turn him down. ‘I hope they carve your brother up. Get that? I hope they carve your bloody brother up!’ In the end the decision is made for them as Whitaker shoots the prisoner as he rises, during the fight between Bamforth and Johnstone.
The play offers no obvious answers to who was right or what they should have done. It was quite ironic how it is Johnstone left alive at the end who surrenders because it is was he who was prepared to kill their POW, having said this he did not have much choice in the matter. Personally I really don’t know what they should have done because it was such a hard decision, but if I had to make a decision I would probably have tried to take the prisoner back to camp rather than hanging around arguing about it.
If they had done that they might have had a chance of getting back alive, but as it was they had no hope. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that Johnstone was right, when he said that they should kill the prisoner in the beginning, when none of them were attached to the prisoner and there would have been no problem. However I don’t think I would be able to kill someone in that situation – even if I was ordered to.