Chapter 3

Graves arrives at Craiglockhart. Sassoon warmly welcomes him and sends him to speak to Rivers. Graves tells Rivers some background about Sassoon and how he got Sassoon to agree to enter the war hospital.

While Graves was recovering from a war wound in a hospital on the Island of Wight, he received Sassoon's protest of the war in letter form. Graves decided that he needed to help his friend get out of the mess he was in. Graves thought that Sassoon had made a big mistake: "I could see at once it wouldn't do any good, nobody would follow his example. He'd just destroy himself for no reason." So Graves decided to help his friend, if not his cause. He convinced Sassoon that there was no way that the army would ever court-martial him (even though that possibility still remained), and encouraged him to go to Craiglockhart. Graves pointed out to the Board how advantageous it would be to simply say that Sassoon was mad. He told them what a brave platoon commander Sassoon was, how the men worshipped him, and how he loved the men. Graves pointed out all the courageous acts Sassoon committed as a soldier, and in the end, he convinced the Board to commit Sassoon to a mental hospital.

Although Graves admits that he lied to Sassoon, he feels justified in his actions. He believes that, as a soldier, a man should do his duty and be faithful to his "contract" even if he has changed his mind about the reasons or the justifications for the war. Graves feels that Sassoon did not go about changing peoples' minds in the right way. Furthermore, Graves feels that well- known intellectual pacifists like Bertrand Russell and Ottoline Morrell were simply using Sassoon for their own ends. Graves is happy to have Sassoon out of their influence.

After Graves leaves his office, Rivers reads three of Sassoon's poems (which are printed in this chapter). He reflects that Sassoon, in writing war poetry, acts in a way opposite to most patients. Whereas most war veterans try as hard as they can to forget their war experiences, Sassoon is intent on remembering and communicating his war memories. By attempting to further his cause, Sassoon may have aided his own mental health.

Chapter 4

Rivers meets with Anderson, a former surgeon in the war who is now a patient at Craiglockhart. Anderson tells Rivers about one of his dreams, in which his father-in-law waved a snake at him and he was tied down with corsets. He offers that this dream might mean that he considers the hospital an emasculating experience. Anderson's breakdown occurred when he was treating a French soldier who had escaped from the German lines; he treated the soldier's minor wounds but missed the major one, and he watched as the man bled to death on the table. Days later, Anderson broke down and collapsed on the floor in a pool of his own urine. Since then, he has been having horrible nightmares that keep him and his entire floor awake during the night. Anderson now has a disinclination for the practice of medicine, although he realizes that when he returns home, he must practice medicine to support his family.

Sassoon and Graves go swimming in the pool. Sassoon has a wound in his shoulder and Graves has a wound in his thigh. Sassoon reflects on how lucky he is when he thinks of the boy in the bed next to him in the military hospital who had a horrible "hole between the legs." With no privacy in the hospital, all the patients had to watch his dressings be changed every day.

Later that afternoon, Sassoon meets with Rivers for their scheduled session. He explains that he never meant he really wanted to kill Lloyd George (the Prime Minister) as Graves implied; that comment was merely for rhetorical effect. Sassoon tells Rivers that both his brother and father are dead. He never knew his father well, as he left home when Sassoon was five, and died when he was eight. Sassoon never went to the funeral, though he was told that it was Jewish, and foreign to him. Sassoon was educated at Marlborough and Cambridge, but he never felt able to catch up on his education. Most importantly, Rivers discovers from this session that Sassoon is extremely uncomfortable being safe and out of danger. He feels contempt for those who live in safety while others fight for them.

That night, Burns looks outside the window. It is pouring rain, but he feels the need to go out, so he puts on his coat and boards a bus heading away from the city. He rides as far into the Scottish countryside as the bus will take him, uncertain of where to go. He stumbles along a field and comes across a tree that feels slimy. When he looks up, he sees that dead animals are hanging from all the branches. He starts to run, but then he turns around to face his fear. One by one, he unties the animals and arranges them in a circle around the tree. Then he removes his clothes and lies down naked in the middle of the circle. He feels that, despite the rain and the cold, this is the right place. Later, he returns to the hospital to the patience and comfort of Dr. Rivers.


In 1917, the time in which the novel is set, treatment for mental illness was just beginning to be an accepted topic in medicine. Although there were many reported cases of soldiers going "mad" in the trenches, many people, like the older men on the military Board in this novel, doubted the existence of any real sickness or affliction. They preferred to believe that those men who exhibited signs of madness did so in order to shirk their military duty. At this time, Sigmund Freud, who is mentioned in this novel, had become famous for his research of psychological disorders, which largely revolved around the topics of dreams, sexuality, and parental issues. Psychology and psychiatry were new fields, and doctors who recognized "shell-shock" as a mental problem tried various methods to correct it. Some employed electro-shock therapy, while others, like Dr. Rivers in the novel, believed it was better to allow the patients to talk about their experiences and to help them to remember. The therapy Rivers employs, like all the other methods, is experimental for its time; therefore it is important to note the context in which he practices his treatment. Such context helps to explain the distrust for some of Rivers's methods that is implied in the patients' speech.