Social class Essay
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Explore the ways Sheriff presents social class for dramatic effects in ‘Journeys End’. Compare the way in which Sheriff presents social class and compare the ways Barker explores class division in Regeneration. ‘Journeys End’, first produced in 1928, is a play which portrays a fairly realistic, picture of the front line in the First World War, as it was based on R.C Sherriff’s experiences as an officer in the East Surrey Regiment. However, the novel ‘Regeneration’ published in 1991, is based on Pat Barkers research of authentic documents, such as letters, diaries and reports which shows a graphic description of the suffering endured by men in the trenches, focusing on their physical and psychological damage.
In comparing a novel and a play, we can identify certain features of the genres. In the drama text ‘Journey End’, Sherriff creates a strong visual impact. When the characters are introduced he has to quickly demonstrate key features of their personality in order to capture the audiences’ interest and help them to recognize different types of officers. He achieves this through stage directions and dialogue. However, in ‘Regeneration’ Barker uses detailed narrative to portray her characters which can help the reader build up an understanding of their problems, as the story progresses.
Social Class is an important theme throughout both texts and through the presentation of this theme; we see diversity in the two writers’ views of social class. In ‘Journey’s End’ Sherriff uses the character of Trotter to present the situation of a NCO, who has risen from the ranks; although as an officer, he does not share the same social background as the other central characters. However, Sherriff does not seem particularly interested in exploring issues of social division. Instead he presents Trotter as a comical character with very little psychological depth.
Pat Barker, on the other hand, shows a significant interest in matters of social division, in the war and considers the situation of a character, such as Prior a young man of a working class origin who entered the war as an officer and has to face the prejudices of those from more privileged backgrounds.
In Sherriff’s stage directions, the characters of the upper class, for example, Stanhope, a highly courageous captain and the NCO Trotter are contrasted to show the distinction between their social class. Whereas Stanhope is described as good looking -‘tall, slimly built with broad shoulders’ Trotter is described as ‘middle aged and homely looking’. In addition, ‘his face is red, fat and round’ and ‘his tunic appears to be bursting at the waist’. This seems to exemplify Sherriff’s belief in the superiority from those of a more privileged background and immediately allows the audience to recognize Trotter as an ordinary working man, a decent soldier but not a potential hero.
Furthermore, Trotters cockney dialect distinguishes him from the other officers in the dugout as he drops his ‘Hs’, uses non-standard grammar like ‘ain’t’ and slang such as ‘skipper’ instead of captain. Trotter’s language is generally very basic and is mostly centered on food, rather than worrying about the progress of the war. This breaks the tension and adds humor, for instance when he describes the stew made by a former cook: “thin! Thin wasn’t the word. Put a bucket full of ‘is stew in a bath and pull the plug and the whole lot will go down in a couple of gurgles” His down to earth nature and unconscious humor is seen in lines such as, “You must have pepper in soup!”
The picture being built up is that Trotter is a very simple person and this reflects the stereotype of that time which presented working class people as less intelligent. However, it is not clear whether Sherriff is expressing his own prejudices or merely presenting an accurate view of how the upper class officers would treat an NCO as most of the negative comments come from Stanhope, who appears to have a very critical attitude to Trotter. Although other characters such as Raleigh and Osborne seem to interact with him as a down-to-earth, loving character.