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Pat Barker


Chapters 5–6

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Chapter 5

Rivers is introduced to Prior, a new patient in the hospital who refuses to speak. Prior writes on a pad, in block letters only, saying that he does not remember what happened to him and that there is nothing physically wrong with him. He is hostile to Rivers.

Sassoon says goodbye to Graves and leaves the hospital for a short walk through the town. Despite what Rivers has said about Sassoon hating safety, Sassoon is happy to go to bed each night in white sheets knowing that he will wake the next morning.

Rivers goes home and prepares his nightly bath. He constantly thinks about the hospital and the welfare of his patients. He resents the luxury Sassoon has to object to the war. Though Rivers wants nothing more than for the war to end so that he may return to his research in Cambridge, he understands that it should not be left to another generation to fight German militarism.

Rivers goes to sleep. Later he wakes from a nightmare and record what happened in his dream. He dreamt that he was recording the hypersensitivity to pain on the arm of his friend Henry Head. To his surprise, Head suddenly turned the scalpel on him and jabbed it into Rivers's own arm. Rivers realizes what the content of his dream was about. Years ago, he had been working with Head on research to study nerve regeneration after accidental injury. Head offered himself as the subject of study, and Rivers assisted him in severing the radial nerve, suturing it back together, and recording the growth over a five-year period. The essence of his dream is his strong feeling of dislike of inflicting pain.

Rivers concludes that the dream must refer to his aversion against inflicting any pain on his patients. By encouraging his patients to talk about their traumatic experiences, Rivers forces them to relive their pain. Furthermore, as this method is experimental, he does not even know if this is helping them. Rivers realizes that by encouraging his patients to express their feelings, he weakens the basis of manliness upon which both he and they have been raised.

Chapter 6

The next morning, Rivers speaks with Prior, who has gotten his voice back in the night. He says that his voice comes and goes, but he does not know why. Prior is a difficult patient; he does not want to talk about his dreams or his experiences because he sees no reason to churn up memories. When Rivers gets up to leave, Prior becomes more cooperative. He tells Rivers a little about what he remembers. In the war, he would have to stand in a dugout in No Man's Land—the neutral ground between the English and German trenches—for forty-eight hours at a time, just to "protect" the land. The Germans would do their best to bomb the men in the hole the entire time. The last thing Prior remembers is being carried out of the hole.

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