Prior has been confined for two weeks to the hospital as a punishment for being out too late and for speaking to the matron disrespectfully. In his session with Rivers, he complains about the severity of the punishment. They discuss the possible reasons why officers do not suffer from mutism nearly as often as private soldiers do. Rivers believes it is a conflict between "wanting to say something and knowing if you do say it the consequences will be disastrous." He believes that officers have more complex mental lives because they have been better educated.
Prior asks Rivers why it is that Rivers stammers. Rivers is taken aback and says that there is no known cause; it might be genetic. Prior suggests that maybe it is Rivers who is ill; maybe there is something that he has been trying not to say for fifty years.
That night, Rivers is trying to finish some paperwork, deciding which patients are fit to send back to the war, when Prior comes in to apologize about his rude manners that morning. Prior admits to Rivers that he has not yet told him about his dreams because his standard shell-shock nightmares sometimes strangely intermix with sex. Rivers suggests that now might be a good time to try hypnosis, and Prior agrees to it.
Under hypnosis, Prior remembers waking up in a trench for duty one morning. As he walked down the path to check on the other men, he heard a shell overhead. He turned around to see that there was nothing left of two of his men who had been cooking breakfast. As he ran to shovel their remains into a bag, he picked up an eyeball and vomited. He finished cleaning up and then went to report the death of the two men.
When he is brought out of hypnosis, Prior feels intensely angry. He feels responsible for the deaths of his two men. He recalls the story of an officer who commands that his troops fire on another regiment, only to find out that they are English, not German. He says he knows what that officer must have felt like. Rivers consoles Prior that there is no one kind of man who breaks down.
Later that night, as Rivers is preparing for bed, he reflects on the day. He had been used to patients treating him like a father, but he was disturbed that one patient years ago had likened him to a "male mother." He resents the fact that the quality of nurturing remains female, even when performed by a male, but he recognizes that the relationship among men in the trenches is domestic, and often quite maternal. He also reflects on the paradoxes of the war: that something so manly should end up so domestic, that men were "mobilized" into holes where they could hardly move, and that "manly activity had turned into feminine passivity." As Rivers goes to sleep, he wishes he were young enough to serve in France.
Sarah, Lizzie, and the other munitions workers are talking on their tea break. Sarah mentions how she was disappointed that Prior never came on Sunday to pick her up as she expected him to. Lizzie answers that she is dreading the time her husband will have to be on leave this weekend. She says, ironically, that on August 4, 1914, "peace" broke out for her; she could have her own money and be free of her abusive husband when he left for the war. She does not look forward to his return.
Rivers examines a new patient named Willard. Willard received his injuries when his company was retreating across a graveyard under heavy fire and some pieces of gravestone were shot into his back and buttocks. He believes he has a physical injury to his spine, yet all the doctors have said there is nothing wrong with him. Nevertheless, Willard is unable to move the lower half of his body. Rivers suggests to him that his paralysis may be due to a psychological block. Willard is reluctant to believe it is anything but physical.
Sassoon makes a trip to Rivers's Conservative Club. As he waits for Rivers, he overhears two older men discuss their sons at the front and he builds up a hatred for them, for the men who only sit and talk while others fight. But Sassoon soon feels sickened by himself. He realizes that, by agreeing to go to Craiglockhart, he is no longer protesting or doing anything to help his fellow soldiers: he has been pacified. When Rivers arrives, they sit down to a meal.
Rivers reflects how much easier it would have been if Sassoon were not his patient. Sassoon forces him to make justifications for the war every day. Rivers truly believes that it is the war, and not man's innate weakness, that has caused all the mental problems he treated. This viewpoint means that Rivers has had to convince himself that the war justifies such destruction of men's minds.
Rivers notices that Sassoon is in a very depressed state; he has just received word that two of his close friends have died. Rivers reflects that the experience of these young men in some ways "parallels the experience of the very old. They look back on intense memories and feel lonely because there is no one alive who has been there." Rivers thinks it will be quite a hard job to get Sassoon back to the front; he admits that he must convince him because he respects him too much to manipulate him.
Rivers returns to the hospital to find Willard in a wheelchair stranded at the bottom of a hill, with Mrs. Willard by his side. She is not strong enough to push him back up the hill. Rivers notes Willard's look of powerlessness and frustration. Rivers then helps Mrs. Willard push the chair back up to the top of the hill.
In these chapters, Barker touches upon issues of class and gender that arose during the First World War. During these years, newspapers wrote about and people discussed the supposed "class harmony" at the front. People were told that the mission to defeat the Germans and the communal living conditions in the trenches worked to solidify all classes of men under one common goal. Unlike at home, where there were significant barriers to the interactions between the upper and lower classes, at the front, people believed these barriers were broken down in a way that was healthy for the nation. Prior dismisses such tales of "class harmony." In his experience, class continues to determine one's place in war, just as it does in peace. Prior is extremely aware of such class distinctions. As a man of the lower-middle class who has been "made ambitious" by his mother and has risen to the rank of officer, he notes carefully the differences in upbringing and education that separate him from the real upper class.
The characters of Lizzie, Sarah, and the munitions girls are used to explore issues of gender. The war has not only changed the men who served in the army; it has also intensely changed the women who have been left at home. It is not at all uncommon for young women to take jobs in factories far from home. They stay in boarding houses with the other workers, supervised by a matron. Still, their jobs allow them freedoms never before imagined. Armed with spending money and free of parental supervision, these women feel the liberty to enjoy themselves as they choose. As Lizzie remarks, "on August 4, 1914 peace broke out." For many women at home, war meant freedom and happiness; not all were so happy it would end.
Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!