Presentation on theme: "Mental Cases An analysis. Overview Written in 1918 – Owen captures the damage to men's minds as a result of war. The damage was not more shameful than."— Presentation transcript:
Mental Cases An analysis
Overview Written in 1918 – Owen captures the damage to men's minds as a result of war. The damage was not more shameful than bodily wounds, however the after effects of war didn't always find ready acceptance at that time, and MENTAL CASES is both a powerful poem and a propaganda document. Owen's aim is to shock, to describe in stark detail the ghastly physical symptoms of mental torment. As in DULCE ET DECORUM EST, Owen shows men in their prime become senile wrecks.
Stanza One The subjects of the poem are objectified by the opening references to ‘these’ and ‘they’. Their humanity has been stripped from these unnamed patients and the abruptness of the opening rhetorical question challenges the speaker’s companion to define them as well as confronting the reader with his interrogatory tone. Their nameless state makes them representational of those whose mental capacity is shattered by their wartime experiences.
The querying tone of ‘Who’, ‘Why’ and ‘Wherefore’ demand a considered response, triggering reflection on the casual relationship between the horrors of war and mental breakdown.
The archaic language of ‘Wherefore’ lends Biblical weight to the moral implications of their condition. These ‘purgatorial shadows’ rock in a metaphorical hellish existence, their mannerisms and tortured visage to envisage their dehumanised appearance cause by ‘Drooping tongues’ and slavering jaws.
Value-laden diction and word inversion heightens the impact of the repellent image of hared teeth and aggressive manner, ‘teeth that leer like skull’s teeth wicked?’ The simile links the living with the dead, emphasising their separation from normalcy as well as hinting at how war has made them ‘wicked’. This also stresses the menacing and disorienting impact of their leering expression.
Repeat active verbs in the phrase ‘Stroke on stroke’ of pain are given greater impact by the sibilance which stresses how each has been one of a succession of emotional wounds that has led to their condition. The oxymoron of ‘slow panic’ makes us focus on the accumulated emotional stress of what they have suffered. What they have witnessed and done has ‘Gouged these chasms’ around their ‘fretted sockets’.
The descriptive impact of ‘Gouged’ and ‘fretted’ making us imagine the cadaverous appearance of their faces now pared down to the skull’s bony extrusions. Their inner torture is given tangible features in the caverns of their faces. ‘Misery’ is personified, sweltering from hair and sweaty palms.
The caesura in the second last line makes us pause to picture the scene before Owen concludes, ‘Surely we have perished/Sleeping, and walk hell: but who these hellish?. He can identify with a soldier’s hell but their extremity of mental breakdown betokens an inner place so horrendous that ‘sleep’ itself has perished. Mental anguish is their purgatorial existence, a fate far worse than death itself for the emotional anguish that first caused their condition is relived endlessly in a cycle that cannot be relieved or stopped. The run-on lines and inclusive use of ‘we’ links the speaker with the subjects while emphasising that their pain is far worse.
Stanza Two The opening lines give some response to the questions of the first stanza. The unknown ‘these’ have been identified as those whose minds have been ‘ravished’. This forms a link with the idea of sleep having been ‘perished’ as another assault on the senses. The ravisher is death itself, personified and capitalised as the cause of what has happened to these men’s minds. Wars ‘Dead’ have attacked their psyches, making them another casualty of war. They have been robbed of innocent slumbers, now plagued by nightmarish recall.
Owen borrows a Shakespearean phrase (allusion) from Macbeth, to emphasise the mass death these men have been forced to witness. ‘Multitudinous murders’ is made more ominous by ‘death’ in war being equated with murders, repeated in lines 2 and 3. The accumulated effect of the harsh alliterative ‘m’ in the second and third lines makes the reader share the speaker’s shock at what is before him. This allows them to make the connection between the horrific slaughter ‘they once witnessed’ and what they have become.
Macbeth allusions continue in the image of ‘Wading sloughs of flesh’ which is more disconcerting than the Bard’s reference to seas of blood. The murder committed by this war has become a quagmire of destruction. This conjures up images of the physical terrain and the level of destruction that made the landscape a muddy mire made up in part of mangled, trampled bodies.
Empathy is developed by references to ‘these helpless’ who are doomed to forever ‘wander’ this vile landscape. Their path is uncertain but circulatory. High modality is used in the final four lines to emphasise the ongoing hell these helpless men endure. Word inversion and reference to the senses of sight and sound, ‘Always they must see these things and hear them’ and the horrors they have witnessed for they have been utterly debilitated by them; their lifeline to normalcy completely severed.
Rhyming terms ‘Batter’ and shatter’ confront the reader as does the image of ‘flying muscles’ as men’s bodies are ripped apart. This is the ‘Carnage incomparable’ that has cursed these men, Owen’s word inversion once again demanding that we acknowledge their fate and recognise its bloody cause. Life has been squandered, as has their mental health for the hellish sights they have seen have been ‘Rucked’ serves as an effective image for the convoluted and war-torn terrain, thick with the dead in which they lived and fought.
Stanza Three The undeniable causal relationship between war and insanity is made with the opening (diction) ‘Therefore’. Placement of the word ‘tormented’ at the end of the opening line effectively emphasis their suffering. They have lost visual contact with the outer world as they focus instead on an inner sight fractured by pain and death. They have withdrawn into an inner hellish place which mars and besmears everything else. Blood imagery is effectively developed through the compound words, ‘blood-smear’ and ‘blood-black’. The impact is increased further by the ‘b’ alliteration and the negative connotations of ‘smear’ and ‘black’.
Neither ‘Sunlight’ nor ‘night’ impinges on the world they live in for ‘Dawn’ heralds no rebirth, repair or redemption for them. They exist in a twilight world where each new day merely beckons more of the same, opening ‘like a wound that bleeds afresh’. Theirs is a mental wound that festers and weeps and never heals.
Another conclusion is reached, pre-empted by the (diction) ‘Thus’ which shows the speaker’s insightful grasp of what he is witnessing. Once again, alliteration is used to make the reader acknowledge this gruesome sight of these heads forced to ‘wear this hilarious, hideous’; leer. Antithetical ideas of humour and horror jar our equanimity, making us a helpless companion to the person who wanders amongst such men.
The extended metaphor of these patients as living corpses, begun in the opening stanza is concluded in the final stanza by their description as ‘set-smiling corpses’. The ‘falseness’ of their appearance emphasis that they have been dehumanised. The final four lines have a sermonistic tone as if we are being directly addressed to recognise our culpability in the fates of these men. We recognise our representative involvement through terms such as ‘brother’ and ‘us’.
Their frenzied actions, ‘plucking’, ‘picking’, ‘snatching’ and ‘pawing’ (verbs) are easily envisaged as is the mental incapacity that underscores them. They are scourged by ‘rope-knouts’ of society’s making that ‘dealt them war and madness’. Biblical allusions with archaic terms such as ‘smote’ and Owen’s use of a self-flagellation motif that shows that responsibility cannot be readily abrogated elsewhere. War, which is madness itself, was waged with such men as its cannon fodder and for the social endorsement of that we all stand indicted. There is a social responsibility for what has befallen ‘these hellish’, ‘these helpless’ and ‘these things’.