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Explore How Faulks Presents the Psychological Effects of War in ‘Birdsong’

Throughout ‘Birdsong’ Sebastian Faulks presents the psychological effects through themes, characters and setting. The persistence of psychological trauma haunts characters throughout the novel and presents readers with a sense of true horror through the physical and mental conditions Faulks creates for his characters. This essay will be examining the way the author does this through his exploration of language, characters and techniques.Men had to leave their homes; family, wives and women were left behind when going off to war. Once leaving their women and their femininity behind, the men become deprived of sexual encounters and experiences, forgetting how to treat women. Stephen describes a woman as ‘a soft creature’ to create emphasis that he only sees women just to either scorn or pity them. This implies because of the psychological effects of sexual deprivation, Stephen doesn’t know how to perceive human beings because he’s seen many horrendous things during the war, thus making things unidentifiable for him; leaving the readers to have a sense of sympathy for him.The reader witnesses Stephen’s tainted perception when approaching the prostitute, Stephen’s mind ‘emptied’ and ‘his tenderness was replaced by revulsion’. The structure in which the author portrays this is ambiguous because it opens the question whether he was disgusted by the prostitute or his own actions since he was ‘losing control’ and perceiving the ‘body was no was no more than human matter’. Now that Stephen is close to a woman after such a long time, it reveals an animalistic and dehumanising aspect to his personality that the war has inflicted on him which neither he nor the readers have experienced.In Part 2, after Weir encounters his failed sexual experience with a prostitute, he violently ‘hissed’ explaining he wanted ‘to leave’. Faulks creates the deliberate ambiguity to allow the readers to infer what might happen, which leave us with ambiguous and mortifying thoughts since Weir’s sexual deprivation proves to be counterproductive, suggesting to readers he is a coward and ultimately affecting his judgement later in the novel. In Part Four, ‘Weir ordered his tunnel to be evacuated’ which seemed to be the right thing to do, but ‘left two or three men’ down there. His judgement is altered later on since it was his ‘idea to put them down there’ leaving those three men to die. Because of this, the men had lost their lives due to his incorrect ‘duty rota’ he created. Furthermore, the readers now know that his decision-making was wrong and argumentatively cowardly.Once the men are away from war, their perception of life changes drastically and we see this through the stream of consciousness of Weir as the ‘mahogany of the chest looked alien’. This presents to readers that the psychological effect of war has made Weir feel alienated and feels like an outsider in his own home, presenting us a sense of realism to what the soldiers had to endure either on leave or after the war. Furthermore, its shows that the soldiers were so used to the ugliness of war and the naturalism of the mahogany presents to readers irony of how something that originates from natural substance could be estranged. When Weir returns, his body and mind has to get used to the ‘denseness of the silence’ that ‘pressed his ears.’ The metaphor ‘denseness of the silence’ shows readers how different the home front is, compared to that of how noisy the war was. The intertextuality of this shows readers that Weir feels out of place, suggesting he had become accustomed to war life. Leading from this, Weir feels psychologically out of place, like he is living in a different world with a sense of displacement.By constantly portraying the men as being dehumanised, Faulks presents this to the readers as a continuous perceptual construction of the war through the eyes of the soldiers. Through the entire novel, characters constantly think about death and how ‘death had no meaning’. This metaphor of death to illustrate for the readers a sense of realism and a true insight to what the psychological effects of war were like; people feared death the most in life and now even this has become meaningless, especially to the ones who have seen their comrades severely injured or die during battle.This links back to Jack when he had thought he was ‘immune to death’, but Faulks uses irony to expose him and readers to the setting when Jack was ‘underground with several hundred thousand tons of France above his face’ to symbolise that no one was safe, everyone is exposed; underground or above ground, dead or alive: you cannot hide from death when you are in the war. It could be suggested that Faulks is portraying the soldier’s naivety and innocence, by having ‘not to think’ anymore, expressing that their basic human characteristics of fear have simply disappeared. Faulks mentions how soldiers have been ‘unmoved by violence, hardened to the mutilation’ revealing to us how the psychological effects of war have affected men since they have become hardened by the loss of life they have seen, which has left them emotionless through their experiences leaving ‘only this physical mass’.As the novel progresses we are introduced to Elizabeth and explore the psychological effect of how war has affected her. Faulks portrays her character that seems to devote her life in a quest for knowledge of her Grandfather, Stephen. At first, we see her horrified at the information she has received, but because of her ignorance toward the war, she ‘always appreciate what sacrifices were made for them’, forgetting ‘Her nerves’ that ‘failed’ her when she called the ‘very old man’. The verb ‘failed’ shows readers that her emotions have been defeated, suggesting she desperately wanted to be successful and wasn’t prepared to fail, showing her ignorance about the war and its consequences.Faulks explores her ignorance through Gray when she asked him ‘Was he… funny? – Gray replies in a sardonic tone as ‘Funny? It was war’ highlighting her ignorance once more leading her to wish ‘she hadn’t come’ which shows her disappointment. All these negative psychological effects of her search soon turned to positivity and happiness. For instance, Elizabeth ‘would repay the debt; she would complete the circle’. Evidently, this shows that through unlocking her past, she would feel a sense of achievement and complete wholeness, leaving no margins for bitterness or negativity. Overall, she had ‘overcome her disappointment’; again showing the positive psychological effect and changes the information has been for her.Ultimately, war did corrupt the characters’ minds at one point or another, showing the reality and the implacable horrors of war. Through writing this novel, Faulks allows his imagination, views and personal opinions to create the real devastation of how both men and women psychologically changed during and, arguably, after war. Faulks explores these psychological effects throughout ‘Birdsong’ to his readers so that they can get a true feeling about the idea of how both men and women coped with the war and how it affected their lives during and after.

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