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Regeneration

Pat Barker

Chapters 15–16

Chapters 13–14

Chapters 17–18

Summary

Chapter 15

Rivers travels to Burns's seaside house in Suffolk to spend a few days there. He thinks Burns sent for him so that he can meet with Mr. and Mrs. Burns and talk about the future of their son. However, when Rivers arrives he is surprised to find that Burns's parents are not there, nor are they expected to come. Burns is staying at the seaside home while his parents remain in London.

Though Burns is still extremely thin and suffers from awful nightmares, Rivers is hesitant to ask him to talk about his memories. He feels that if Burns wants to talk about things, he will bring them up himself. Rivers wonders why he has never really forced his treatment onto Burns, as he has done to the other patients. He has allowed Burns to try to forget his memories; now he wonders if that was really the best thing for him.

They spend a few days taking walks, visiting the local pub, and talking about other things. One night there is a severe storm, and Rivers hears what he thinks to be a bomb. He wakes up, dresses, and goes outside to find a small crowd of people by a boat on the beach. Rivers asks where Burns is, and a woman points toward the marshes. Rivers pushes through the storm, down into a tunnel that floods at high tide. There he finds Burns, cold and completely rigid, but alive. Rivers thinks to himself, "Nothing justifies this. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing."

Later, after Burns warms up and has had a good long rest, he opens up to Rivers about his war experience. He was made the captain of a platoon at the early age of twenty-one. It was his job to write letters to families about their sons who had been killed; often it would be more than one in a family. He talks about the brutality of the Battle of the Somme, how his men were ordered to attack over a dike and merely proved to be target practice for the German machine guns. Burns would often go on patrol, hoping to be shot in the arm or leg so that he could get home safely. Burns reflects on the tremendous capacity in the imagination for torture and evil; he alludes to the awful imagination that led to death on a cross by suffocation.

Rivers wonders if this is talk is helping to heal Burns, realizing it might just be a sign of further deterioration. Rivers wonders about Burns's future and concludes that he has "missed his chance of being ordinary."

Chapter 16

Rivers returns to Craiglockhart and tells Bryce of his decision to take the job in London. He sits down to work, but for once he does not feel burdened by it. Although he looks forward to spending time with other anthropologists in London, he realizes the work he has done in Craiglockhart has been important to him; it is a part of him.

Sassoon comes to Rivers's office for his appointment. Sassoon asks for a room change; he cannot bear his new roommate, who believes that everything is done by the grace of God. Sassoon is annoyed by what he perceives to be his roommate's complete disassociation with reality.

Sassoon tells Rivers of some of the hallucinations he has had. They have not been frightening, but Sassoon considers them irrational. He sees his dead friends coming to knock on his door. They are puzzled by Sassoon's presence in the hospital when there appears to be nothing wrong with him. Sassoon is troubled by these hallucinations, and he gives Rivers a poem that he wrote about them. Sassoon feels guilty for abandoning his men. Finally, he tells Rivers of his decision to go back to the front. Rivers admits that he is pleased by Sassoon's decision.

Analysis

Regeneration is primarily structured around the consciousness and experiences of Rivers, who is the link that connects all the patients together. It is through his mind that ideas and beliefs are reflected. By choosing Rivers as the central protagonist of the novel, Barker forces a comparison between the past and the present. Rivers, a good thirty years older than most of his patients, was brought up with a Victorian education. Raised by an Anglican priest, Rivers was taught not only a strong belief in God, but also a deep respect for order and authority. He recognizes his duty to be that which he has agreed to do; he does not accept that changing one's mind should have any effect on honoring one's duty. However, as Rivers treats his patients and learns more and more about the horrors of war, he begins to question his existing values. Though Rivers will not admit it to Sassoon, he cannot see that anything could possibly justify such mass destruction of a generation of young minds and young men. As a protagonist who is also a scientist, Rivers's keen observations allow us an insight into the moral and societal dilemmas he faces. In Rivers, traditional values and modern reality clash uneasily.

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