Journey's End revision notes AS English Literature

my revision notes on Journey's End by R.C.Sherriff

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Journey's End by R.C. Sherriff
Journey's End is a powerful and accurate document detailing the lives of soldiers in 1918, at a particularly
crucial moment in the history of the First World War. Its value as a historical and cultural object is obvious.
Sherriff's play, however, is also a significant work of literature that transcends its particular context and
deserves to be played on stage as an important work of drama, not just as a memorial to the soldiers of
the 1914-18 conflict. Its theme is, after all, a universal one: it is, like Hamlet , a play about death, and
specifically about how human beings cope in the face of death.
This theme is introduced quietly at first, so that the audience do not recognise its importance until later:
`By the way, you know the big German attack is expected any day now?' says Hardy to Osborne. Only
later do the audience realise the deeper significance of this comment, and Captain Hardy's jubilance at
the beginning of the play: Journey's End begins with one of only two characters who actually survive the
`big German attack' (the other being the Colonel). Hardy's joviality is because he has had the luck to be
relieved just before the fighting begins.
The tone of Osborne in this opening scene, however, does nothing to betray this radical distinction
between the two men. Osborne joins in the banter; all is business as usual. One of Sherriff's most obvious
points is that human beings simply cannot face the reality of death all the time , day-after-day,
week-after-week. Osborne is a past master at every little coping strategy from remembering the
garden back home to treating the war as if it were a `Rugger' game, and, finally, just before he meets his
own death, to immersion in the fantasy world of Lewis Carroll. He knows that death is just something you
cannot afford to think about, and his advice to Raleigh sets the young man on the same path: `You must
always think of it like that if you can. Think of it all as ­ as romantic. It helps.'
Trotter seems to take the same approach, that of simply ignoring his fate, and Stanhope accuses him of
having no inner life at all. In fact, Sherriff is careful to make it clear that this is not the case: `Always the
same, am I? ( He sighs ) Little you know,' is Trotter's answer to Stanhope, and it reveals a man ­ probably
the strongest in character of all the officers ­ who faces death with remarkable good humour and
He seems genuinely able to ignore it, and this rather annoys Stanhope who draws a picture of Trotter
being blown up on the day of the attack on the little calendar the latter has drawn to count off the days
until they are supposed to be relieved. His calendar shows Trotter's ability to carry on a day-to-day
existence of meals and duties without being constantly plagued by thoughts of death.
In this, Trotter contrasts completely with Sherriff's main character, Stanhope. Stanhope is a young man
who is erratic and unpredictable. He entered the war wanting to be a hero, and ends up carrying the
burden of this image of heroism to his death; as he points out to Osborne, he feels his value in the eyes
of Jimmy and Madge Raleigh is his heroism ­ both hero-worship him and will carry on doing so, Stanhope
feels, ` ­ as long as the hero's a hero.'
This burden is simply one that Stanhope cannot carry. Faced with the choice of going sick or taking to
drink, he, fully conscious of his actions and their consequences, chose the latter. The whisky was there,

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Sherriff indicates through a number of significant details that the army seems to think
that the question `Will you have a drink?' is the answer to most problems. Stanhope, however, refuses
to give up his heroic dream (which has now become a nightmare) and he resolves to die. Raleigh's arrival,
of course, spoils his plans, but the audience can see his intentions in his idea of censoring Raleigh's
letters, as he muses drunkenly, `( dreamily ) Cross out all he says about me.…read more

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Pg.9 :
- pale colours reflect the moof of the peace `' A pale glimmer of moonlight[...] the misty grey
- `CAPTAIN HARDY, a red faced, cheerful-looking man...intently drying a sock over a candle
flame .' ­ Sherriff chooses to start his play with a humorous image that causes the audience to let
down their guard. Everything seems happy and relaxed: the contrast when the real situation
becomes clear is all the more effective.…read more

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Hardy says a lot but uses pauses- he can't put everything in words= dislocation
-Hardy foreshadows Osborne's death `' you''ll get it-right in the neck'': it's not like Hardy is
horrible to Osborne, Hardy is realistic, knows that death awaits the all
- When Hardy speaks about thechnical issues of commanding- no emotions in it
- Osborne asks when men sleep- shows his concern to another human being- Hardy on the other
hand is dispassionate: shows the class hierarchy ? does not want to know…read more

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- `all of a sudden he jumped up and knocked all the glasses off the table! Lost control of himself;
and then he ­ sort of ­ came to ­ and cried' ­ more indications for the audience of Stanhope's
strained mental condition.…read more

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You'll find other officers call me `Uncle' `' : assimilate with the sense of warmth
- past time seems full of joy in contract with the present: talk about rugby
-`He's a splendid chap' ­ Osborne again boosting Stanhope. It is a constant theme of these
opening scenes.
-`Of course, I wasn't in the same class as Dennis ­ I say, I suppose I ought to call him Captain
Stanhope?' ­ This establishes a small but significant theme of the play.…read more

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Pg 21:
- `'We are, generally, just waiting for something. When anything happend, it happens quickly.
Then we just start waiting again''- doesn't really tell Raleigh war's true image-want to keep him
as long enthusiastic as possible before he will be transforem into totally different person
-`You must always think of it like that if you can. Think of it all as ­ as romantic. It helps.' ­ Osborne
suggests the kind of defence mechanism possible to the young and idealistic Raleigh.…read more

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How long's he been out here? Theree months''- lifespan of an officer, perhaps Hibbert sense
that his life is going to end+ try to save himself ? foreshadowing the end ?
-`No man of mine's going sick before the attack. They're going to take an equal chance ­
together.' ­ Stanhope sees it as a key element of his duty as commanding officer to ensure that
his officers stay together and work together.…read more

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ACT 2:
short formal conversation between Trotter and Mason- distraction
- `'used to be a plumber before the war''- Trotter gives an insight into his past- his tranquil life
before the war emerged.
- nature: `'Bloomin' little bird'' in the `'old trench'' the force of nature over the man's destructive
impact on it.
- Trotter is very talkactive- perhaps he doesn't want to be left alone with his thoughts ?
Pg.…read more

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How topping''
`' Next day we blew each other's trenches to blazes'' ­ link to All Quiet on the Western Front
that one order can transfor them into enemies/ friend; ironic situation-first saves one life when
the next day they take more than one life
- Stanhope presentation: takes his job seriously+ feels responsible for his men `' I want to
strengthen the wire all along the front''
Pg.…read more



Great notes - thank you!

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