In this work, I will dwell on the novel Regeneration, by Pat Barker. I will analyze the themes, characters, and the background of the historical era of this novel accordingly. 

In Regeneration, by Pat Barker, we get introduced to series of events and several characters in the era World War 1. In the novel, there appears some characters that have been suffering from the effects of the war. The novel takes place in a war hospital called Craiglockhart. “There, army psychiatrist William Rivers is treating the brutalized, shell-shocked man.” Shell-shock is defined as being shocked, confused or anxious because of a sudden event or a difficult situation and being unable think normally, in Oxford Dictionary. Shell-shock, in the context of the novel, basically refers to the suffering of the soldiers. The novel takes the perspective of both the patients, and also the doctors.    

First things first, Regeneration may be seen as an anti-war novel since its first line: “FINISHED WITH THE WAR: A Soldier’s Declaration” This declaration points out a rebellious and strong-minded character full of youth, named Sassoon. Sassoon makes this declaration as an “act of willful defiance of military authority”. He tries to resolve the evil and nonsense of the war and that he never wants to be a part of it. His declaration shadows us the influence of the war on the society. Men are forced to fight for the war and leave his loved ones behind, because men unconsciously want to prove themselves to the society. This results in men forcing themselves to act “manly”. Additionally, the men that cannot fight for the war, even due to health problems, face with “emasculation”. They still want to prove themselves “masculine”, because the war is masculine according to the perception of the society.  

Sassoon has been misunderstood by the majority of the society and they think that he is insane for this. Therefore, he is hospitalized to the War Hospital Craiglockhart. At Craiglockhart, he meets Dr. Rivers who methods psychoanalysis. The relationship between Dr. Rivers and Sassoon is significantly focused on the novel. Because we see that both of them provides each other with new knowledge. To exemplify, Sassoon appears as a younger generation, with a more radical thoughts and principled beliefs. Sassoon opens up new gates for Rivers. On the other hand, Rivers represents the older generation. In this way, Rivers may also appear as a father figure to Sassoon. Sassoon always wants to take advice from Rivers and respects his thought in fact. Besides, Rivers is one-track-minded and he only acts in order to act as what his “duty” offers. He never questions the war. He somehow creates a reality that no matter circumstances change, he shall never leave his duty. Rivers doesn’t question even his therapy method until he meets Sassoon. Sassoon makes him realize that Rivers’ own reality was full of lies. 

Rivers comes to an understanding that his therapy has no support system that cures his patients. At the last chapter of the novel, Rivers meets with Dr. Yealland. Yealland is also a doctor who works in order to “cure” his patients at his war hospital. Rivers witnesses the electroshock method that Yealland uses. Rivers recognizes that his and Yealland’s therapy methods are similar to each other. Yealland, at this sessions, puts a mental block between his patients and himself: He always repeats “You must speak, but I shall not listen to anything you have to say. Even though Rivers understands that Yealland’s therapy is cruel and inhumane, he questions whether he puts a mental block in his patients’ minds, similarly to Yealland. In this way, he tries to complete the pieces in his mind about his definition of duty, therapy method, and the war. 

At the end, we see that Sassoon, who has been always against the war, wants to go back to the battlefront to fight back. Rivers involuntarily sends Sassoon back to the war, but he is never sure: Is it because he wants to protect his soldiers, or because he wants to die by the means of the war? Sassoon loses his hope and willingness to protest against the war and he accepts that he can never change the perception of the society. Lastly, Rivers tries to come to a solution whether he is right to send his patients back to the war. But he is never sure if his therapy worsens his patients’ mental state instead of really curing them. 

Thus far, the influence of the war on men is emphasized. However, social issues like war affects every side of the society. Women become free when men leave for the war, so women don’t look forward to war to end. Since women are seen to take a good care of the men, women allow themselves to act more freely as no men put pressure on women. We can conclude by saying that war affects every part of the society, as Regeneration highlights.      

Janset Tetik

Belkıs Bozağaç

Şevval Büzkaya

23 August 2023

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