The Way Sherriff
The Way Sherriff
The character of Stanhope is introduced by the other characters in the play before he makes his entrance. Hardy is the Captain of another company that is about to leave the front line, and Osborne is Stanhope’s second in command. They both discuss Stanhope’s personality. Stanhope is introduced by these two characters before he comes into the play. This dramatic device is used by R. C Sheriff, is to build up the suspense before his entrance. It makes the audience want to see what Stanhope is actually like. Captain Dennis Stanhope is one of the most important characters in the play.
R. C Sheriff uses him to show the struggles and strains of life in the front line. He presents him as a brave character, a character to be admired, however, not all the time. In the play we learn very little of Dennis Stanhope’s character as a man, but much more of his character as a soldier. One reason for this is that he is the commander of ‘Infantry Company C’, thus has to appear strong, composed and above all, in charge–all the time. He feels that he must be very dedicated to his work and present a stern but fair front to the rest of the men.
It is important for him to do this as he has only been a commander for a year and is relatively young, as he is just 21 years old. Another reason why we see very little of his character as just a man, is that he has been fighting in the war for a long time ‘Nearly three years. He came out straight from school– when he was eighteen’. This has hardened him and he is much more used to the war as an everyday reality, and because of this he has found ways to cope with the stress and horror of war. He uses drink to forget about his life at home and the atrocious war surrounding him.
He relies on drink, a lot. He drinks almost all the six bottles of whisky they brought with them in just three days, ‘The last bottle! Why, damn it, we brought six! ’ He is able to admit to his drinking problems and why it is that he drinks so much: ‘If I went up those steps into the front line– without being doped with whisky– I’d go mad with fright’. His drinking is no secret, all the men are aware of it and accept it, some of them even joke about it, ‘How is the dear young boy? Drinking like a fish, as usual?
I think this makes the audience feel more at ease with Stanhope, as throughout Journey’s End he is a regimented character. The audience realises everyone has weaknesses, even Stanhope, a company-commander. The way Stanhope handles the arrival of Raleigh and his letters shows how much stress he is under. Stanhope is under the impression that Raleigh will write badly of him in his letters to his sister, Madge. He is very wary of Raleigh and is very concerned Raleigh will say bad things about him (as Stanhope and Madge are ‘unofficially engaged’).
He doesn’t want him to tell her how ‘He reeks of whisky all day’. He doesn’t think that he’s ‘A damned little swine who’d deceive his sister. ’ As a result of this, he decides to censor Raleigh’s letters. When he eventually gets to read the letter to Madge from Raleigh, he is rather embarrassed to find that the aggravation he has caused was about nothing, and Raleigh’s letter was solely full of praise for Stanhope. This is definitely a part in the play where there is a comprehension needed for the audience’s liking of Stanhope.
“But I tell you – there’s nothing – Dennis – I’m –” (Raleigh), Stanhope’s response is certainly not sympathetic: “Don’t ‘Dennis’ me! Stanhope’s my name! You’re not at school! Go and inspect your rifles! ” However there is another aspect to at it from, this showing of temper doesn’t necessarily make the audience think any less of Stanhope. It can make him seem more human, not everyone’s always perfect. We can understand why he has done this to an extent because of the enormous amount of stress he is under.
After Osborne reads those letters, Stanhope appears to be very remorseful – he lowers his head, pauses, murmurs, finally walking off – hastily. This letter is an insight to what the men really think of him. ‘Then I went on duty in the front line and a sergeant told me all about Dennis. He said that Dennis is the finest officer in the battalion and the men simply love him. ’ Bear in mind there are roughly one-thousand two-hundred soldiers in a battalion and for Stanhope to be considered the best; this really shows Stanhope’s character. He’s not just hero-worshiped by Raleigh; he’s hero-worshiped by most of his men.
He then writes, ‘He hardly ever sleeps in the dug-out; he’s always up in the front line with the men, cheering them on with jokes, and making them keen about things, like he did the kids at school. ’ This letter conveys nothing, but good about Stanhope. It portrays him as a determined, supportive, and sympathetic character – I don’t think that can be taken away from him. I think R. C Sheriff has done a superb job at making Captain Stanhope a character to be admired; he uses both subtle and powerful devices to make it clear what Stanhope is like and he is clearly an admirable character.
There are possibly some parts of this play which could change one’s attitude toward Stanhope, but mainly due to him drinking. His drinking habits are to blame. But his personality never changes. He’ll always stay determined, disciplined and supportive of his men. To conclude, I think R. C Sherriff has used to Stanhope to show the struggles and strains of life in the front line. He presents him as a brave character, a character to be admired – a true war hero!