Essay on War Themes in Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

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The structure of Faulk’s Birdsong allows us to observe the impact of the War upon numerous individuals across the generations. Throughout the novel, even outside the 1914-1918 time-frame, Faulks continues to maintain a link between the past and the present through his use of a number of motifs and themes. The lasting impact of the War suggests that history should never be forgotten, which is the paramount message in Birdsong.

In Birdsong, Faulks considers the idea of the War as an ‘exploration of how far men can be degraded’ in terms of the impact that war had upon the individual characters, resulting in dehumanisation. The main feature of being human is individuality. During his three-day-rest, the character Jack reflects that each
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Faulks’ presentation of the men’s loss of humanity and resorting to primal behaviour allows us to comprehend the impact the War had on individuals.

The idea of the war being ‘beyond nature’ is one which is emphasised by Faulks as it highlights the impact of the War on a large scale; all the men are forced to live in the new reality which gets worse and worse. Following the Battle of the Somme, Faulks describes the ‘crippled sleepers’ rising from the ground, saying that it resembled a ‘resurrection in a cemetery’ ; a simile which represents the fact that the men are now the living dead; their old lives have been stolen from them. Faulks anthropomorphises the soil, saying that the men ‘teemed up from the reluctant earth’ alluding that even nature has turned against the men. The characters Stephen and Weir discuss the atrocities which have occurred during the Battle and Weir becomes hysterical, repeatedly asking what the men have done. Weir says ‘we’ll never get back to how it was before’ after considering the scale of the battle. The men believe that it is impossible to return to their old lives. Years after it ended, the character of Elizabeth describes the War as a ‘hellish perversion’ which conjures up images of a violation and

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