“Journey’s End” by R.C Sherriff Essay
“Journey’s End” by R.C Sherriff
Journey’s End is a play about British soldiers in World War One, and the effects the war has on them, both physically and mentally. The play explores many aspects of war life, including friendship, alcoholism, class boundaries and the lifestyle of the men in the trenches. This essay explores how the play shows the effects of war on those involved, looking at use of dialogue, lighting, props and other key dramatic devices. The essay will mainly focus on Act 3, Scene 2 of the play, but relevant quotes from other scenes in Journey’s End will also be used to help illustrate points.
Stanhope, the Commander of the company, is a prime example of how the war effected many intelligent, able young men. The audience knows Stanhope is a good officer and is well respected from earlier dialogue in the play. For example, in Act 1 Scene 1, Osborne says, “He’s a long way the best company commander we’ve got”, and Hardy agrees.
Stanhope is also a humorous man, and can get on very well with his fellow officers. For example, at the beginning of Act 3 Scene 2, he has all the men in stitches, relating tales of mischief with women.
However, he appears to only be in a good mood when he has been drinking, which he does a lot. We know this because in the very first scene of Journey’s End, Hardy discusses Stanhope’s drinking habits with Osborne, saying, “I never did see a youngster put away the whisky he does”. One of the main effects of the war on Stanhope is his drinking. He drinks for “Dutch courage” on the battlefield, and in Act 1 he confesses this to Osborne, saying “If I went up those steps into the front line without being doped up with whisky I’d go mad with fright”. This quote tells the audience that Stanhope has come to depend upon drinking to help him cope, and certainly has some kind of alcohol problem. The excessive drinking also greatly affects his temper, and he has fierce mood swings throughout the play. An example of one of these mood changes is the contrast between his jolly, merry demeanour at the beginning of Act 3 Scene 2, and the undiluted rage he expresses later on in the scene when he confronts Raleigh about his failure to attend dinner. These changes in his demeanour are shown by the changes in tone and volume of his voice throughout Act 3 Scene 2. At the start of his confrontation with Raleigh, he speaks in a fairly mild, controlled tone of voice. Silence is indicated by the stage directions to create tension, for example “there is silence except for the the rumble of the guns”, creates a distinct impression of awkwardness and fraught tension. The use of silence also contrasts strongly with the way Stanhope yells angrily at Raleigh later on in the scene. These sound devices both grab the audience’s attention, and show them just how enraged Stanhope is.
Even the sight of Raleigh appears to anger Stanhope. This is because Stanhope was at school with him, and is engaged to his sister. Stanhope is paranoid that Raleigh will tell his sister about his drinking habit, and seeing a familiar face from the outside world has rattled him because he is so used to the routine of war. After Osborne, whom he was very close to, is killed during a raid, the men do not openly grieve, but try and act normally to keep their morale up, and have a dinner with cigars and champagne to celebrate the successful raid. Raleigh refuses to go to dinner, which greatly angers Stanhope. By the end of Act 3 Scene 2, Stanhope is absolutely livid with fury. The last line he shouts; “For God’s sake, get out!” is then followed by silence, which is a very effective device in grabbing the audience’s attention and creating a mood of fear and apprehension. Overall, Act 3 Scene 2 is most effective in showing an audience just how much of an impact the war has had on Stanhope and his personality.
Raleigh is another character who is greatly effected by war, but, unlike Stanhope who has been been in the trenches a long time, Raleigh is very inexperienced, which makes him appear extremely naive and vulnerable. Raleigh’s first reaction upon entering the trenches (Act 1) is that of surprise. He has been expecting more noise and excitement, and says to Osborne, “How frightfully quiet it is!”
To begin with, Raleigh is very eager to go out and fight, but Osborne’s death after the raid has a big effect on him. He cannot understand how the men can sit, eating fine food and drinking champagne ,when one of their closest companions has been killed. However, Raleigh does not realise that the reason why they are doing this is to try and help themselves to forget the tragedy that has occurred, and to boost morale amongst the men. Raleigh has misunderstood the situation, and only realises his error at the end of Act 3 Scene 2, when Stanhope shouts, “You think there’s no limit to what a man can bear?” Raleigh tries to apologise, but Stanhope is too incensed with rage to listen.
By the end of that particular scene, even though Raleigh has only been at war for a week, he is already a changed person. His short battle experience has erased whatever distorted expectations he has had before, and he now knows about the harsh realities of life in the trenches. We know this because of his obvious change in mood and personality- by Act 3 Scene 2 he says a lot less than he has beforehand, and stage directions tell us at one point, “Raleigh speaks in a low, halting voice”. R.C Sherriff has chosen to alter his speech and tone of voice to show the audience clearly how the raid has affected Stanhope as a person.
Osborne is a character who is very much aware of the realities of trench warfare, as the oldest and one of the most experienced officers in the Company. In Act 1 the stage directions describe Osborne as “hard as nails- physically and emotionally strong”. He is a father figure for the other officers, and is affectionately known as “Uncle”. Osborne is also a loyal and caring friend. The audience knows this because in Act 1 he defends Stanhope to Hardy, who is criticising the Commander’s drinking patterns. He also puts Stanhope to bed when he is drunk, which shows that he has a caring nature. He and Stanhope are extremely good friends- the war has brought them very close.
Dialogue throughout the play shows that Osborne tends to use short sentences, such as “Oh?”, and “I see”. He is more of a listener than a talker, and that comes across in the conversations he has with other characters. It is quite possible that he has always been a quiet man, but the war could have caused him to become even quieter and more withdrawn.
In Act 3 Scene 1, before he goes out during the raid, Osborne gives Stanhope his watch and ring with a letter to give to his wife, “just in case” anything should happen to him. Stanhope reassures him, “You’re coming back, old man” , and the two men laugh as they go their separate ways. However, neither of them really know if Osborne will come back alive or not, and this fear and uncertainty is another effect the war has on the men and their lives.
Throughout the play, lighting is used to set the mood and display to the audience as realistically as possible what it was like for the men living in the dugouts. There is little light for most of the play, just dim yellow candles. On the very first page of the play, lighting is described in some detail. Phrases such as, “A pale glimmer of moonlight”, and “the misty grey parapet” give the idea of a gloomy, shadowy atmosphere. The lack of light must have affected the men’s sense of time and place. In the play, Trotter keeps a calendar so he can tell what day it is, and how long it is until the raid. However, in Act 3 Scene 2, the stage directions say, “The dugout is lit quite festively with an unusual amount of candles”. At the beginning of this scene, the lighting reflects the bright, jolly mood of the men, and contrasts strongly with that of the previous scene.
The sounds and props used in this scene are also very different to that of Act 3 Scene 1. The sound of laughter replaces the sound of heavy guns, which lightens the mood and relieves tension considerably. There are empty champagne bottles on the table, which shows they have been enjoying themselves. The food described in this scene (roast chicken), is very different to the food the men consume in earlier scenes. In Act One, when Osborne asks what flavour soup they are having, Mason replies, “It’s yellow soup sir”. Most of the officers came from upper/middle class public school backgrounds, so quite a big effect on them would be having to eat small portions of revolting, non- nutritious food. It would also be a major change for many of the men not having washing facilities, and having to survive in appalling living conditions. Many men would have suffered from acute boredom when nothing was going on, so many (like Stanhope) reverted to drinking or smoking heavily just for something to do. The war affected all the men involved in so many different ways, but obviously the main effect was that so many of them lost their lives in battle.
At the end of the play, Osborne and Raleigh have both been killed but Stanhope lives. The deaths of Raleigh and Osborne show that war is indiscriminate, and death can occur at anytime to anyone, regardless of age or experience. Raleigh is a young, inexperienced newcomer, and Osborne is an experienced senior officer, but they both die within a few days.
Journeys End shows the effects of the war on the men involved very realistically, using dramatic devices such as sound, dialogue, props and lighting very effectively. It paints a clear picture in the reader’s mind of what it was like in the trenches, and how the men were affected by battle.