Prose Commentary, Pat Barker Essay
Prose Commentary, Pat Barker
The title of the book from which this excerpt is taken, “Regeneration,” highlights what I see as the main theme in this thought provoking prose piece. This piece of prose raises images for me of the moist dampness, humid soil, death and the prospect of life arising from the continuation of the cycle of life and death. These Images are shown in phrases such as the final sentence, which says, “Now they could dissolve into the earth as they were meant to.” This sentence is the one which stuck out most to me in the whole excerpt; I found it very powerful in that it brings out the theme of “regeneration” to the reader and it is a sentence which sticks in your mind.
I can see this as an overall whole picture, where “Burns,” who I view as a returning soldier, perhaps from the Gulf War given the date, experiences, and successfully faces one of his terrible fears, picked up from the war, of bloody, dead “corpses,” and through this finds the prospect of soul peace before him. I also see that nature and the cycle of life as a big theme in this excerpt as it shows up in nearly every line. Words such as, “rain,” “mud,” “trees” and “wind” support this. The narrative structure of this excerpt is also important, because it is as if the story of “Burns” is being told by someone else and so it is likely not subject to the bias of the actual person’s account.
In the first three paragraphs, rain and the wetness of the land is a large part of describing, setting the scene and the tone of the rest of the excerpt. The author creates a feeling about “Burns”, that he is somewhat stranded, for the writing states, “He didn’t know what to do” and “so long since he’d been anywhere alone.” As well as creating a “lost” feeling this sentence confirms the thoughts, though not directly, that “Burns” is a returning soldier. The use of the words, “Raindrops dripped” with the repeated “d” sound, creates the patter of large raindrops. “Persistent” and “monotonous” link up with each other to remind the reader of the continuity of the wetness.
When “Burns” reaches a fence, he sees that, “A tuft of grey wool had caught on one of the barbs.” Perhaps an animal had once quite recently struggled to free itself from this discontinuity in nature as “Burns” does when he too gets caught on a barb just like an animal. The repetition of the “b” sound in “Burns blinked,” carries on the theme of the persistence of the rain. Throughout the whole of the third paragraph there is another repetition of the “b” sound, this time though it is used to bring out the sound of the thud and plodding of “Burns” in “his mud encumbered boots”. There is also a repetition of the “s” sound in words such as “slipping and stumbling” for exactly that, to create the sound of someone slipping in the wet mud. The writer also uses words such as “cold”, “khaki” and “tight cloth” to create a chilling stiff sound to make the reader feel the cold that “Burns” is experiencing.
In the next two paragraphs, the author makes the wind and its severity, an impacting factor on “Burns'” progress toward the safety that he seeks. The wetness of the setting which surrounds “Burns” is also again a major influence in his quest. The tone of these two paragraphs is much more severe than the first three. The author says that the wind tries to “scrape” “Burns” “off its side.” suggesting that the situation has become more intense. That line is very effective literally because the word “scrape” is an onomatopoeic word and when joined together with “side” it creates an alliterating “s” sound. The fact that he has to keep his “head bent” and the “Rain beat onto his head” both confirm the increased severity of the weather. When the weather is so bad that the distance vanishes in a “veil of rain”, the alliterating “v” sound bringing out the hum of the constant rain, “Burns'” survival instinct kicks in and he decides to take shelter, running “clumsily” toward a clump of trees.
But again he is slowed to a walk because of the dragging mud. The words “mud dragged ” are effective here, for even to say them together takes effort and your reading is slowed by them, amplifying their effect. The “sucking” of your reading is again shown in the words “mud-clogged boots”, the “d”, “g” and “b” sounds all together make the reader have to pronounce each syllable in a drawn out way. Where the author talks about, “the whine of shells” he is referring to the sound that you hear when you put a shell to your ear and compares it to the noise of the wind through the trees. In paragraph five the author shows the exhausted “Burns” so tired he cannot even be bothered to “wipe away” the rain drenching his face.
In the next three paragraphs, the tone of the extract becomes quieter; there is neither mention of the intense rain nor the sound of it. The tone of the setting becomes almost sinister amongst the trees. “Burns” now in what he thinks is the safety of the trees continues to stumble and the writer again uses the repeated “b” sounds in the words, “began”, “stumbling”, “blindly” and “between” to show us that “Burns” has still not quite got his bearings right yet. The author uses the repeated “c” sounds in the words “catching”, “clumps” and “bracken” to the same effect. Because he is “stumbling” “blindly”, something “brushed” “Burns'” cheek and when he tried to push it away, his hand touched what he first thought to be slime. On turning to see what it was, “Burns” discovered that there was a “dead mole, suspended, apparently, in air”.
The use of commas in those few words are effective because they make the reader pause and thus put emphasis on a very important part of the extract, it begins the change in plot of the whole extract. “Its small pink hands folded on its chest.” suggests the authors’ feeling that the mole was innocent, but was still killed. The author provokingly compares the dead animals “Burns” sees to a “fruit” tree bearing, what the author makes you think are heavy fruit by using the word “laden”. Heavy fruit because they are generally more likely to smell of decay, which is what the dead animals are, decaying. The author quite interestingly uses animals from each part of the earth; the “magpies” from the sky; the “fox” from the ground and the “moles” from under the ground, this I see as a continuation of the regeneration theme carried on throughout the whole excerpt.
I think that the fox scared “Burns” so much because it reminded of something that he saw in the war. Again in paragraph eight the trees are “against” “Burns”. The author uses the alliteration of the words “twigs tore” through the “t” sound to remind the reader of the snapping sound of twigs and the force that “Burns” was putting into getting away was enough to snap the twigs on his skin. It brings out how frightened he really was. The writer’s reference to “dead leaves” also fits in with the theme of “Regeneration” for dead leaves must “dissolve into the earth” to create nutrients for the trees from which they fell and thus continue the circle of life.
In the short paragraph nine, the setting changes briefly once more because “Burns” goes out into the field once more. He splashes effectively through the alliterated “flooded furrows”, the “f” making the sound of the swishing water. “Burns” then hears a voice, probably the voice of a fellow soldier from the war. It is said to be the voice of a person named “Rivers”. I did find it quite ironic that the author of the book from which this excerpt is taken, would use the name “Rivers” for the voice which “Burns” hears because in Scotland a small river is called a burn.
This brings out to me that the author is making the aspect of water very important to this particular scenario. I feel that the use of water here is important to the overall theme of regeneration because water is a key part in the cycle of life, it is the source of all life and so I think that this is why the author emphasises this point. The voice that “Burns” hears tells him that, “If you run now, you’ll never stop.” basically telling him to face his fear. This may be because perhaps “Burns” ran away from something before and did not face his fear.
The last two paragraphs of the excerpt talk of “Burns” facing his fear, finding a peace amongst his dead “companions” and his finding a control which he did not have at the beginning of the excerpt. “Burns” turns back therefore facing his fears. The fact that the author talks about what the “real Rivers” might have said confirms that “Rivers” is a real person and he is probably still alive.
When “Burns” lets down the dead animals he is allowing for the natural cycle of “Regeneration” to be complete. This seems to make him feel better for he sits down inside the circle of his “companions” who he no longer views as scary and is happy because, “Now they could dissolve into the earth as they were meant to do.” By facing his fear, “Burns” was regenerated in himself, this also made him content. The last line is the most important in the whole text; it sums up and puts into context the entire idea of Regeneration.
In conclusion I would say that there is one main theme in this excerpt; it being the ongoing recurrence of the idea of “Regeneration” through the means of nature, water, the cycle of life and death and the facing of fear. It is also important to say that in order for regeneration to happen, something has to die.