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Regeneration

Pat Barker

Chapters 13–14

Chapters 11–12

Chapters 15–16

Summary

Chapter 13

Burns is brought before the medical board, and although Rivers has assured Burns that he has recommended an unconditional discharge, Burns is extremely anxious. During the interview, Rivers helps a trapped insect find its way to the window.

Prior is in the sick bay again, after passing out on the train ride home with Sarah. He talks to Rivers, who tells him that his asthmatic condition will have to be reported to the Board. Prior is frustrated; he wants to return to France because he feels like he does not fit in anywhere but there. He needs people to talk with and he feels that the soldiers on the front are the only men who can relate to him. Prior feels he has failed because he broke down, and he wants to return to the front to prove himself.

Rivers gets a call that there is something wrong with Anderson. Rivers rushes to Anderson's room to find him on the floor in a fetal position, afraid of the blood from his roommate's shaving wound. Rivers cleans Anderson up, calms him down, and asks him to think seriously about a profession other than medicine to practice when he leaves the hospital.

Rivers then begins his daily appointments. The first patient is Willard, who requests to be separated from Prior in the sick bay; he cannot stand Prior's nightmares and screaming, and furthermore, he thinks Prior is gay. The next patient is Featherstone, who requests another room; he cannot stand Anderson as a roommate any longer. Rivers is kept busy by a string of patients and appointments. It turns out that Broadbent, who swore that his mother had passed away and who had taken leave for the funeral, was mortified when his mother showed up to question why she had never heard from her son. At the end of the day, Rivers is exhausted. He goes to bed early, but wakes up in the middle of the night with terrible chest pain. When Dr. Bryce comes in the next morning, he examines Rivers, finds an irregular heartbeat, and orders him to take three weeks vacation.

That night it storms heavily. Sassoon goes to Owen's room, and together they work on poetry for a few hours. When Sassoon returns to his own room, he thinks about all the men under his command: how they were in poor physical condition, many just five feet tall, "almost a different order of being." Sassoon falls into a troubled sleep and dreams that his friend Orme is at the door, but then he realizes that Orme is dead. Sassoon wakes up and waits for the morning so that he can talk to Rivers before he goes on leave. He rushes down to Rivers's office, only to find that the doctor has already left on the early train. Sassoon is dejected. He returns to his room and thinks of his father who has abandoned him. He realizes how completely Rivers has taken his father's place, and how much this feels like a second abandonment.

Chapter 14

Rivers is at home, and he makes a trip with his family to church. He stares at the windows, which depict Abraham sacrificing his son Isaac and Jesus dying on the cross. The contract, Rivers reasons, is that if a man obeys his elders, even to the point of sacrificing his life, he will someday receive the same obedience from his sons. He reflects that today, in France, they are voiding the contract by killing their sons; there will be no one to inherit from the fathers.

After church, Rivers returns to the farmhouse of his brother Charles. Rivers reflects on the relationship he had with his own father, a priest and a speech therapist by profession. As a boy, Rivers rejected both the unquestioning religious belief in Genesis and the physical cause of a man's stammer, both ideas to which his father dedicated his life. Rivers reasons that no father-son relationship is perfect. He sits down to write a letter to Sassoon.

Back in the hospital, Sassoon helps Owen to draft one of his most famous poems, "Anthem for Doomed Youth." He notices that Owen's stammer is improving, and he encourages him to publish him poem.

Sarah goes with her friend Madge to a war hospital so that Madge can visit her boyfriend, who has been wounded. Sarah does not want to be in the way, so she searches for an exit from the hospital so that she can sit outside for a while. She stumbles across a tent outside, and when she walks into it, she realizes that it is filled with men without limbs. The men stare at her with a look of fear in their eyes. Sarah realizes that the shocked look on her own face must have made their suffering worse, and she is angry with herself. She is also angry that such men should be hidden from public sight. She thinks that if this cost is what society demanded of them, then everyone should be made to see it.

Prior goes to the hospital to have his chest examined, and he dislikes the doctor who attends him. He has a feeling that the doctor thinks he is shirking and will soon send him back to the war. Prior feels powerless, but as he leaves the hospital, he notices Sarah; realizing how much he likes her, he asks her to spend some time with him.

Rivers goes to visit his old friends Ruth and Henry Head. Ruth suggests to Rivers that perhaps Sassoon is right: the war is horrible and men should be allowed the freedom to disagree with it. Rivers sticks to his duty and says that he has a job to do—to convince Sassoon to return to the war. At home, Henry offers Rivers a great job in London, working in a hospital where patients have had severe spinal injuries. It would be a terrific career move for Rivers, but he is not sure he wants to take it.

Analysis

Truth and trust in religion emerge as consistent themes in Regeneration and in the war as a whole. As poets, Sassoon and Owen question faith in their art. Their poems question the presence of God in the absence of wartime mercy. Perhaps more important, their work challenges religion as a moral basis for society. In World War I, Anglican priests played a significant role in encouraging young men to enlist for military duty. Invoking God and country, these priests spiritually led soldiers to the front while they themselves enjoyed the privilege of attending to religious duties in the safety of home. Sitting in church, Rivers senses this hypocrisy and questions a faith that asks man to sacrifice his sons to a larger, unknown force. Without the poetry, the faith, and the explanation that the Bible provides for stories like Abraham and Isaac, the reality of the death in France seems meaningless and incongruous with a belief in God.

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