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The Return of the Soldier - Essay Example

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The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West was written in 1918, the year in which the First World War ended. This novel is set in 1916, the middle of the war, when the fighting had taken on a furious pitch. During the war men left their homes and families for a dangerous and hard life of fighting; where, often they witnessed appalling horrors…
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Download file to see previous pages This era is often described as the final era of the old world; for, it still held major class distinctions between the rich and poor. It was also known as an era of great elegance and luxury for the rich who lived on their large estates, and great suffering and hard work for the lower classes. The beginning of the war saw families of the soldiers desperately trying to uphold the Edwardian ways in an ever changing world. It is against this backdrop that West's novel is set.
The novel deals with Chris Baldry, an army captain, who suffers shell-shock; thus, causing him to forget all that had happened over the last fifteen years. He believes that he is still twenty one and in love with Margaret, a lowly born innkeeper's daughter. West uses a first person narrator, Chris' cousin Jenny, to tell the story of Chris' illness and his recovery. The journey that Chris takes in regaining his memory displays the bridge between the old social order before the war and the new emerging social order. Therefore, by looking at Chris and how the women in his life help restore his memory, it may be possible to better understand how the war changed the social order of England.
In chapter one we are introduced to the three women who have been central to Chris during his life. The first half of the chapter sees Jenny, Chris' cousin and Kitty his wife in the nursery of Chris and Kitty's dead child, Oliver. Jenny reveals to the reader how she and Kitty had especially crafted Baldry Court and the surrounding grounds of Harrowweald so that Chris may live a contented life surrounded by luxurious perfection. She also accounts the day that Chris left for the war, describing how he took leave of the house. When Jenny threats that they haven't heard from Chris for a fortnight we are given our first insights into Kitty. She tells Jenny "not to fuss". Kitty is described as beautifully perfect; she is continually busy with her physical appearance. We get the idea that she is so unworried about something happening to Chris because she is perfect and she maintains a perfect household and grounds. This first half of the chapter depicts the Edwardian way of elegance and luxury. Jenny's narration is also extremely descriptive mainly focusing on the material, placing great emphasis on it.
The second half of the chapter sees Margaret's arrival to Baldry Court in order to bring the news of Chris' illness to Jenny and Kitty. A great contrast is created between Kitty's lovely appearance and Margaret's weather worn appearance that shows a life of hardship. Many unpleasant words such as "repulsive", "unlovely", "base" etc. are used to describe her. Due to the extreme divide between the rich and poor, Jenny at first mistakes her nervous way of telling them about Chris' condition as stupidity "this woman butted like a clumsy animal at a gate she was not intelligent enough to open "; yet, later realises it is because she does not want to hurt Kitty by confessing that Chris does not remember her at all, he can only remember his love for Margaret. Kitty further demonstrates how materialistic and aloof from true feeling she is when she disbelieves Margaret's story being more worried that Margaret is spinning a story to receive money. When Margaret leaves Kitty continues to ask Jenny if the story can be true; for, if it is it will be a blemish on her perfect life. She ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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