In the poem “The Show”, Owen presents some of his feelings on war including disgust, the idea of futility and the general horror of being a soldier at that time. In this essay I will look at his use of language, imagery and form to present these feelings and compare and contrast this with some of his other poems in the collection. A main theme in “The Show” is that of disgust. Owen presents this feeling through the use of imagery which plays on a very basic fear of people which is that of insects and ‘creepy-crawlies’.
This metaphor which conveys the armies as caterpillars continues throughout the whole of the poem, for example he describes the solders pushing “themselves to be as plugs of ditches, where they writhed and shrivelled, killed. ” This is such an inhuman description that instead of the human emotion which we should feel and any empathy with the soldiers instead we feel slightly disgusted ourselves.
The word “plugs” is very effective in conveying the cramped and horrific living conditions of the soldiers but somehow we do not feel this sympathy towards them as they are depicted as these horrible creatures which “writhe and shrivel” which are definitely not words which one would associate with the death of a human. Instead they create an image of an insect which is convulsing and probably having a very painful death but not one which we can relate to as our feelings are quite detached from them.
I think that this continued parallel between the soldiers and the caterpillars is an interesting one because although the many of the words and phrases used have connotations of pain and suffering, somehow these feelings do not affect us as much as they could have done if we were given a more human face to attach the feelings to. Another example of how this is done is where the narrator says he “saw their bitten backs curve, loop and flatten. In one way this sounds contorted and twisted and could be seen as very painful, but I think that due to the trivial language used and the inhumanness of in all, again we do not feel the empathy with the soldiers. Out of context the words “curve”, “loop”, and “flatten” are trivial and do not really have any connotations of suffering. In this way again Owen demeans the pain of the soldiers and again we feel more of a disgusted feeling that that of sympathy or empathy. I think that Owen uses these ideas of disgust in several ways.
For one as said before, it prevents the reader from having too much sympathy with the soldiers in the poem. This is useful for Owen’s cause as once we are detached from them it is far easier for us to also have disgust for the war and what is being fought for rather that seeing any honour in what they are doing. This fits with “Dulce Et Decorum Est”, where demeaning words such as “beggars” and “hags are used about the soldiers which could make the reader see them as less worthy of their sympathy than if more sympathetic language had been used towards them.
I think it is different however, from the type of disgust used in “Mental Cases”. In that poem I think that the disgusting language is far more vivid and affects us more, for example the phrase “Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter. ” The juxtaposition of the inhumanity of the body parts and the picture of the everyday idea of laughter makes the gore seem worse, and in my opinion affects the reader more than that which is mentioned in “The Show” because it seems more directly involved with the young men who had had so much in their lives to live for and had been reduced to blood and body parts.
I also feel that in “The Show”, disgust is not only used for the soldiers but also for the entire concept of war. Even the imagery of the battlefield is disgusting, for example the words “pocks, “scabs”, “plagues” and “warts” have connotations of disease and general unpleasantness which immediately has the effect of disgusting the reader and perhaps swaying them to Owen’s view that war in itself is quite disgusting. I think that the word “plagues” is particularly nasty, as a plague not only corrupts and destroys but also spreads and so kills everything around it as well.
I think that this is an effective comparison with the war as it has killed and corrupted so many people but has also spread out over the battlefields and what was once beautiful countryside which has now been refused to “round myriad warts which might be little hills”. The idea of war as a plague which spreads and kills however, is quite different to the one which Owen presents in the poem “Strange Meeting”. In this it is suggested that war is “the wildest beauty in the world” makes comparisons with truth and “the pity of war”.
I think that the fact that Owen presents these two very different views, one of the general horror and revulsion of war and one of its beauty, is very interesting as it shows us that he did not only feel in one way about it but instead could see that war was a complicated idea which, although in general was abhorrent and disgusting, could in fact have a beauty behind it even if this was obscured by the horrors which also occurred.
This view of beauty can also be seen in “Anthem for Doomed Youth” where in the second stanza Owen acknowledges that there are honours for the soldiers in death such as “the holy glimmers of goodbyes”, even if their deaths are not honoured in the traditional way which could be expected. I think it is effective how Owen can present both the tragedy and beauty of war, as this gives a much wider perspective and adds interest to the collection as there are a variety of different views given.
The poem is given a slightly creepy, nightmarish feel by the use of occasional alliteration and the use of half-rhymes. Examples of this include “uncoiled/killed”, “more/mire”, “dawn down hidden holes” and “feather/further”. These are effective because they seem slightly unnatural as opposed to if none had been used, and therefore give a sinister and perhaps unnerving atmosphere to the poem. I think that this is also more successful than if a regular scheme of rhyme and form had been used because this would be too ordinary and expected and therefore not have had the same effect.
This also works with the idea that it is quite often more unnerving when something everyday and normal (such as a poem with no rhyme) is changed very slightly (such as using half rhymes) than if it were changed completely. This idea is also used in the poem “Strange Meeting”, where half rhymes and alliteration such as “groined/groaned/grained/ground” build up to provide us with a rather gothic and nightmarish world which the ‘gr’ sounds accentuate the vastness and oldness of it by making us relate it to the groans and grinding which would be the sounds in such a place.
Another poem which makes use of half rhymes to produce the surreal, dreamlike effect achieved in these is “Miners”, where every other line echoes each other which gives it a ghostly effect, for example “simmer/summer” and “cauldron/children”. This works with the idea of the poem as seems to reflect the ghosts of the past, or “steam phantoms… from Time’s old cauldron” and gives an eerie look back into the past and the echoes which that has had on the future are reflected in the form of the poem.
I think that these uses of form are what Owen uses to slightly detach the reader from the poem, so instead of feeling actively involved with what’s going on, for example in a poem such as “Mental Cases” or “Futility” which directly address the reader, instead you feel as if you are watching from afar, or as if it is a dream, and therefore get a different perspective on things. I think that Owen in these cases is himself stepping back from the action of the war and seeing more of the bigger picture, and therefore his aims in these poems is for the reader to do the same and see things from a different viewpoint from the one they are used to.
This helps him portray his feelings about war as it is a much wider view than from just the battlefield and can make us feel what he does about the war in general, and not just what could seem like specific circumstances. The general structure of “The Show” seems quite disjointed and disorganised, as if there is no real flow to it and it jumps from idea to idea with some afterthoughts and no clear thought path. This is conveyed to the reader by a series of very short stanzas, most only two lines long and each jumping to a slightly different subject.
The stanza, “(And smell came up from those foul openings as out of mouths, or deep wounds deepening)” seems to come from almost nowhere, the parentheses causing it to seem very out of place and the content being so vague that we can only make guesses as to what it actually means. This vagueness and ambiguity seems to be common within the poem, even from the first line in which the narrator says “My soul looked down from a vague height, with Death,” suggesting that they are not even in a fixed place in space or time and again adding to the surrealist tone of the poem as well as keeping it very indistinct.
However although the poem in general could be seen as a very vague overview of what is happening, somehow Owen has also managed to convey the effect of there being a great detail of what is happening as there is imagery included which makes the battlefield a little like a dead soldier, with metaphors such as the “harsh wire” being a “beard” and the land being described as “sad”. This personification of the land makes it seem like we are seeing it at a much closer level, almost extreme close up in fact as in this case the armies would really be insects, for example maggots.
This really has the effect of increasing the disgust caused to the reader as the idea of insects eating away at a dead body is really horrific towards us as it triggers all sorts of responses to germs and lack of health and hygiene as well as fears of death and insects. This reflects one of Owen’s views on war which was discussed in an earlier paragraph, and revolts the reader so much to the idea of war that it is very effective.
I think that this whole change between being quite distant from what is happening and yet still able to see the details reflects Owen’s own experiences in the war, in that he was there amidst all the action and confusion and could see the damage which was being done, and yet he still had the ability to step back from it all and see the effects on a wider scale which is what he wants to inform others about through the poem. This is effective in conveying his feelings of anger towards the war as it seems so more widespread than just focussing in, but still has the detail to shock and disgust readers.
This is quite unlike “Mental Cases”, which goes for immense detail and closeness in a rather close up form and does not seem to contain any sort of context from outside of their own personal world. It all could almost be happening within the cavern that their minds have become, and the thought that “sunlight seems a blood-smear; night comes blood-black” suggests that their perception is rather limited to what their own minds create rather than anything outside.
Again Owen appears to be showing different viewpoints and ideas over these poems, some of which are displaying his views to the war as a whole which seem to be in general quite detached and display his bitterness and anger towards the futility of it all, for example “The Show”. Others, such as “Mental Cases”, display the war from a much smaller, but equally valid, viewpoint and these can display many different feelings, some which are angry, shocked and bitter but also some displaying some warmth, understanding and sadness which contrasts with the harsher emotions given at a more detached level.
I think this shows the reader that Owen disagrees with and has anger towards the war as a whole, but his feelings seem to change a little at a closer and more empathetic level. Overall, Owen’s main feeling which he discusses in “The Show” is that of disgust and distaste to the war and what it does to people, specifically by displaying it as a disease or “plague” which is sweeping the countryside.
This is almost like “Mental Cases” on a much larger scale, as in “The Show”, the disease is effecting and spreading across everything in its path whereas in “Mental Cases” he presents a similar idea of ‘disease’ but this time it is more of a disease of the mind which has taken over the soldiers with shell-shock. He also presents the feeling of futility through this disgust, demeaning the deaths of the soldiers and pointing out that both sides were eating each other, suggesting that neither could ever win.
Another feeling which he conveys is that of a slight sadness, through the use of the creepy and unnerving view of this scarred land there is a tone of unhappiness behind it as well which keeps the reader reasonably engaged on an emotional level to prevent all the harshness from becoming too much. The techniques used to do this are very varied, including the imagery, language, tone, structure and form, and altogether “The Show” presents just one of various different viewpoints Owen takes towards the war through this collection of poetry.