Chapter 9

Prior has been confined for two weeks to the hospital as a punishment for being out too late and for speaking to the matron disrespectfully. In his session with Rivers, he complains about the severity of the punishment. They discuss the possible reasons why officers do not suffer from mutism nearly as often as private soldiers do. Rivers believes it is a conflict between "wanting to say something and knowing if you do say it the consequences will be disastrous." He believes that officers have more complex mental lives because they have been better educated.

Prior asks Rivers why it is that Rivers stammers. Rivers is taken aback and says that there is no known cause; it might be genetic. Prior suggests that maybe it is Rivers who is ill; maybe there is something that he has been trying not to say for fifty years.

That night, Rivers is trying to finish some paperwork, deciding which patients are fit to send back to the war, when Prior comes in to apologize about his rude manners that morning. Prior admits to Rivers that he has not yet told him about his dreams because his standard shell-shock nightmares sometimes strangely intermix with sex. Rivers suggests that now might be a good time to try hypnosis, and Prior agrees to it.

Under hypnosis, Prior remembers waking up in a trench for duty one morning. As he walked down the path to check on the other men, he heard a shell overhead. He turned around to see that there was nothing left of two of his men who had been cooking breakfast. As he ran to shovel their remains into a bag, he picked up an eyeball and vomited. He finished cleaning up and then went to report the death of the two men.

When he is brought out of hypnosis, Prior feels intensely angry. He feels responsible for the deaths of his two men. He recalls the story of an officer who commands that his troops fire on another regiment, only to find out that they are English, not German. He says he knows what that officer must have felt like. Rivers consoles Prior that there is no one kind of man who breaks down.

Later that night, as Rivers is preparing for bed, he reflects on the day. He had been used to patients treating him like a father, but he was disturbed that one patient years ago had likened him to a "male mother." He resents the fact that the quality of nurturing remains female, even when performed by a male, but he recognizes that the relationship among men in the trenches is domestic, and often quite maternal. He also reflects on the paradoxes of the war: that something so manly should end up so domestic, that men were "mobilized" into holes where they could hardly move, and that "manly activity had turned into feminine passivity." As Rivers goes to sleep, he wishes he were young enough to serve in France.