Chapter 7

Sassoon wakes up during the night to the sound of screams and running footsteps. Screaming patients are very common at Craiglockhart, and he is thankful that his own roommate does not scream. Nevertheless, Sassoon fears Craiglockhart more than the front; its patients have stammers, stumbling walks, and a look of being "mental.'"

The next morning, Rivers visits Prior in his room and finds him reading one of the books Rivers published years ago. Prior is the one who was screaming the previous night. He apologizes to Rivers and admits that he wants to impress him. Rivers tells Prior that such a feeling is very common. They begin talking about how Prior "fit in" on the front. Prior laughs at the thought that there are no class distinctions on the front; a soldier is judged by what he wears, what he carries, and where he sleeps. They talk for a while about how stupid the military mind is; Prior tells a story about how a man was flogged just for smoking a cigarette. After Rivers gets frustrated with Prior for refusing to discuss his dreams, Prior once again requests hypnosis. Rivers insists he will only do hypnosis if all other methods fail.

Rivers and Sassoon reads the daily newspaper. Sassoon's letter has been read in the House of Commons, but after it is announced that he is in a mental hospital, many members of Parliament dismiss his letter as written by a crazy man. Sassoon is angered at the complacency of the British people; they do not even care if a boy who is not even old enough to enlist is killed. After talking a bit more with Rivers, Sassoon leaves.

Rivers begins writing Sassoon's medical history for the hospital records. He notes that Sassoon's view of the war differs from that of the ordinary pacifist in that "he would no longer object to the continuance of the War if he saw any reasonable prospect of a rapid decision." He does not include any mention of Sassoon's homosexuality in the report.

That evening, Rivers sits around the table with the other psychiatrists to discuss the cases. They ask him to speak about Sassoon. Richards tells them the facts, and Brock, another doctor, suggests that perhaps they should just leave Sassoon alone. Rivers disagrees; he feels it is his duty to convince Sassoon to go back to the front, since his grief and horror should not be allowed to dominate his actions.

Chapter 8

Rivers is in a session with Prior. Prior tells the doctor in detail what it is like to attack from a trench. He talks about climbing up and walking slowly, in broad daylight, right toward the machine guns. He is emotionally detached from the story he is telling, describing it as both "ridiculous" and "sexy." Prior assumes that he and Rivers are on different sides and one of them has to win.

That day, a man named Wilfred Owen, another patient in the hospital, comes to visit Sassoon and asks him to sign books for him. Sassoon happily agrees, and is surprised that Owen has brought five copies for him to sign. Owen is impressed and intimidated by Sassoon, a tall man, a published poet, and a soldier with a reputation for courage. Yet he finds they have a lot in common; they are both poets; they both oppose the war but do not consider themselves pacifists; and they both look at life reflectively. Sassoon offers Owen the invitation to bring his poems over anytime he would like someone to read them

Sassoon goes out with Anderson to play golf. Anderson loses his temper after missing a shot and threatens to kill Sassoon with his club. Anderson is mortified at his behavior, but they both try to laugh it off. They talk about nothing but golf in an attempt to avoid any intimate discussion of the war. Anderson disagrees with Sassoon; though he knows the war is horrible, he believes that it must continue until the end.

Prior goes to a sleazy pub in Edinburgh to get some food and beer. There he meets some girls who work in a munitions factory. He seems to "click" with one girl, named Sarah Lumb, and he takes her to a hotel to buy her some drinks. When they talk, he finds out that she had a boyfriend who was killed by English gas in the Battle of Loos. Sarah could not believe that he had died; she did not know what to do, so she left her family and moved to Edinburgh to work in a munitions factory. She makes plenty of money and she likes the work, though it means long hours.

Sarah stays in a boarding house and is not allowed to bring men back home, so they go for a walk. Prior takes Sarah to a graveyard and they come very close to having sex among the gravestones, but she pushes him away at the last minute. Prior gives in and decides to walk her to her door. He kisses her goodnight and promises to see her again.


Barker employs irony throughout the novel to heighten the horror and tragedy of the war. Patients are expected to share with their doctor, calmly and rationally, their memories of the war. It appears, however, jarringly out of place for Sassoon to be describing war atrocities over tea and sandwiches, just as it is out of place for Prior to describe the horror of walking into machine guns while he and Rivers sit safely in a hospital. Such irony works to heighten the terrible descriptions of war, as we, along with Rivers, realize that it is out of our ability and consciousness to ever imagine anything so terrifying. Such irony also emphasizes the random nature of war, the arbitrariness of being safe one moment and murdered the next.

Another issue Barker briefly touches upon is that of homosexuality. Both Sassoon and Owen are homosexual, and it is left uncertain whether Rivers is also homosexual. Although this is a minor theme, it plays a very important role in the interactions between men both on and off the battlefield. Sassoon realizes that he can never be accepted by mainstream society, and he chooses to challenge it in ways both public and private. He is drawn to Carpenter's book The Intermediate Sex as an explanation for his sexuality, much as he is drawn to Rivers for an explanation for his pacifism. Yet Sassoon is never able to truly find a satisfactory answer, to combine those parts of himself which appear entirely conflicted. In the end, he must choose which side of the conflict will win out when he decides whether or not to return to war.