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Regeneration

Pat Barker

Study Questions and Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Study Questions

Why is the novel called Regeneration? Explain.

One means of approaching this question would be to consider what is regenerated and who regenerates during the novel. One reference to regeneration is the research Rivers conducted with Henry Head many years ago. This research is a physical regeneration; the scientists severed a human nerve and literally charted its regrowth. Another reference to regeneration is the mental improvement of the patients at Craiglockhart War Hospital. Regeneration, in this case, refers to the gradual healing of the mind from war wounds. A third meaning might be Rivers's own regeneration of his values and beliefs.

To answer this question, it would be helpful to compare and contrast the many possible references to regeneration. By exploring the mind-body reference, note that both involve the regeneration of "nerves." "Damaged" men haunt Regeneration; it is up to Rivers to help them to regenerate, to return to life after facing death.

Is Regeneration an anti-war novel? Why or why not?

There are at least two ways to answer this question. One way is to argue that Regeneration is not an anti-war novel. First, because the work is historical fiction, we might assert that it was necessary for Barker to include Sassoon's protest against the war as an important facet of his character, but that his protest is not central to the novel. Second, as the narrator does not play an intrusive role in the story, there is no overarching judgment of the occurrences and events that carries a didactic anti-war tone. Third, in the characters' observations there is most definitely a condemnation of well known pacifists like Bertrand Russell and Ottoline Morrell. Finally, we may argue that Regeneration is not an anti-war novel because it contains no discussion or evaluation of the aims and purposes of war; it only deals with the effects of war, and therefore cannot be said to be firmly positioned in one camp or the other.

There seems, however, to be more evidence supporting the position that Regeneration is an anti-war novel. Barker offers realistic detail of many horrible war scenes, dwelling upon the destruction that war wreaks upon men's minds. These details comprise a large portion of the novel. Furthermore, Sassoon, the novel's hero, rejects all justification for such a high amount of human suffering. Barker presents Sassoon as a likable, sympathetic character who is perfectly clear and reasonable; it seems natural for us to accept his judgments as sound. Perhaps most important, the protagonist of the novel, Rivers, ends up questioning his traditional belief in duty at all costs. Yealland does his duty to "cure" patients, but clearly the physical and emotional cost of his alleged cure is too high. Rivers cannot help concluding that the complete control over human lives, which is brought to the extreme in wartime, is harmful to everyone.

When does the motif of emasculation arise in the novel? How do the characters address issues of emasculation caused by the war?

To answer this question, we should first begin by looking for passages in the novel that concern emasculation or a lack of manliness. This topic resurfaces throughout the novel. Sassoon remembers the young boy in the bed next to him who has been castrated on the battlefield. Anderson dreams he is tied up with corsets. Prior recalls his weakness against his father and the influence of his mother. Sassoon mentions to Rivers the topic of homosexuality and the idea of an "intermediate sex." Rivers reflects on the "feminine: nature of healing and caring for one another on the battlefield.

The motif of emasculation signals the powerlessness the men feel when confronted with the shocking reality of war. Although they try to do the ostensibly manly thing by enlisting in the war and fighting for their country, they must face society's judgment that it is decidedly unmanly to suffer a breakdown from their war experience. In the hospital, Rivers's method of treatment involves further unmanly actions, as the patients are forced to release their emotions and discuss their feelings. Willard is so opposed to the unmanliness of his situation that he refuses to believe he has anything other than a physical problem. Yet, Rivers achieves results in a sympathetic manner; he helps his patients to improve and lead a normal life once again. Through further emasculation the patients are able to improve. Ultimately, the motif of emasculation in the novel challenges the traditional notion of manliness.

Suggested Essay Topics

Describe the role of fathers and mothers in the novel. How do they help or undermine the healing of the patients?

How is Owen portrayed in the novel? In what ways is he like and unlike Sassoon?

Is Prior's relationship with Sarah romantic? Can it be described as love? How does the war affect it?

Which characters change throughout the course of the novel, and which remain static? What are the larger implications for this personal growth or stagnation?

Compare Rivers to Yealland. Are either or both doing their "duty"?

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