Regeneration themes




  • Rivers' regeneration is metaphorical - though he does have a stutter, this isn't in need of 'curing' or 'regenerating' as it's largely under control. His change arguably takes place in terms of attitudes to war. 
  • In upbringing, he was 'brought up the same way as everybody else'. During the events of the book, however, he is influenced by many factors in his environment. These include experiences with patients like Burns, seeing statistical war deaths, Sassoon, Prior. This was illustrated in chapter 13 with Rivers and the Bee. 


  • Initially explores themes of lack of voice for soldiers in mutism and memory loss - during Craiglockhart, he regains his speech (ch6) and undergoes hypnosis to recall memories (ch9). 
  • After Craiglockhart, he is not permitted to return to war due to his asthma - is this a faile regeneration? 


  • Rivers described Burns as one of his most traumatised patients - he initially cannot eat without choking and vomiting, has night terrors and is dangerously thin.
  • In Chapter four, he has a personal regeneration as he leaves Craiglockhart alone (ch4) - he feels it is the 'right' place to be and returns acknowledging his need for help: 'he'd come back for this'. By the end, he is able to open up to Rivers in the comfort of his own home - though he has a breakdown, he is able to cope. Such ambiguity is indicative of real life. 
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Masculinity and emasculation

In chapters 3 and 4, Anderson has a dream which subverts lots of ideas of masculinity. Through knowledge of Freud's work he interprets it to be sexual, feeling he is no longer a proper man ('naked', 'corset', runs away). 

WW1 fighting enforced a sense of 'female passivity' in sitting in trenches and waiting for something to happen. theywere told war was a glorius cavalry charge. but this didn't happen. 
Shellshock was seen as a shaming affliction that emasculated men - look at generational differences.  

Experience in chapter 4? He runs away, arranges the animals in a circle around him and 'cups his genitals'. This suggests perhaps that his pride and masculinity has no place among the natural course of life and death. At the end of this chapter, Burns is comntented waking up to Rivers as a child would - positive experience of emasculation?
In Rivers' visit to Burns at home, he has a breakdown, and Rivers 'held him, coaxing, rocking...Burns' body remained rigid'

In Chapter 18, Prior is refused home service on account of his asthma - in many ways it appears this has effects on his percieved masculinity. 
Also, Prior's parents comment that, having been bullied, Prior 'didn't just hit him, he half bloody murdered him' - attempt to overcompensate, an unhealthy desire to show his masculinity? 
Rivers and Sassoon also show an ingrained sense of masculine expectations

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  • The war was the first time that women's services were fully recognised - many worked in bomb production, Voluntary aid detachment (VAD), women's hospital corps etc. Wages also increased. 

Sarah and prior

  • In chapter 8, Sarah and Prior meet in a pub - she represents the working class women during the war - particularly munitions workers who attained 'yellow' faces from the gasses. Though coontextually, the colour should be temporary it appears part of her, just like effects of war are permanent marks on both men and women. She immediately quashes conventions by being the one to approach Prior. Frequent mentions of her 'halo' may show her importance in war. 
  • Sarah structurally dominates the conversation in speech.
  • It was also considered a service to the country to let officers sleep with them. 
  • Common understanding in 'loos' - both lost someone in war. This feeling is, of course, irrespective of gender. 
  • Sarah's mother makes it clear that she had hoped she would marry rich - she has no faith in men or husbands. 

The Canary Girls 

  • Lizzie is typical of the women who found independence from an abusive husband - she notes she had to become 'hard'
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  • It's significant to note that Prior began the book as a mute - this may correlate symbolically to either the severity of chaos at the front or even the lack of voice many soldiers had.
  • In relation to this, in chapter 5, Prior concludes the conversation with 'NO MORE WORDS' written on a piece of paper - despite his lack of voice he still controls and dominates the chapter.  

Yealland and Callan

  • Yealland uses forceful methods to give soldiers a voice, but ironically ends up removing their voice and even sense of identity - 'You must speak, but I shall not listen to anything you have to say'. 
  • This encounter leads Rivers to make this assumation himself: 'Just as Yealland silenced the unconscious protest of his patients by removing the paralysis, the deafness, the blindness, the muteness that stood between them and the war, so, in an infinitely more gentle way, [Rivers] silenced his patients, for the stammerings, the nightmares, the tremors, the memory lapses of officers were just as much unwitting protests as the grosser maladies of men'.

Also, Rivers says near the end of the book with regards to burns (chapter 15), 'it was difficult to see him as an undergraduate. He had missed his chance of being ordinary'. Arguably, the soldiers are silenced in the short term with regards to their rights, but also in the long term due to the long-lasting effects of war. 
Sarah, as a woman, is also silenced in many ways.

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Duty vs Morality


  • Rivers, perhaps, experiences the most conflict in duty and morality. Initially, he says: 'It's his duty to go back, and it's my duty to see he does'.
  • This, however, begins to change as Rivers meets new patients and has new experiences. In chapter 15, Rivers encounters a severe breakdown from Burns to which he responds: 'Nothing can justify this ... Nothing, nothing, nothing'.
  • In chapter 13, Rivers hears a continuous buzzing of a bee before 'guiding the insect into the open air'. This may also reflect his changing attidudes towards the war, guiding the patients to freedom rather than conforming and silencing them. 
  • Near the very end (chapter 23) River's seems to favour morality over duty as he says, 'A society that devours its own young deserves no automatic or unquestioned allegiance'. This may have had to do with his experiences watching Yaelland and Callan. 


  • In a conversation between Graves and Sassoon, Sassoon comments, 'if you had any real courage you wouldn't acquiesce the way you do'. The idea of what 'duty' truly means is debated - is it accepting and blindly following those in charge? is it standing up for what you believe in? Is it actually to stop fighting and save lives? 
  • In the same chapter he also says, ''i told them it's got to be France. i'm not going to let them put me behind a desk filling in forms for the rest of the war'. The idea of 'duty' is stronly linked to fighting and masculinity. 
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The primary theme with regards to religion in Regeneration is sacrifice. The book, along with the war atmosphere at the time, dictated that sacrifice was an essential part of heorism and duty, this often likened to jesus' own sacrifice. 

    • That being said, many at the time began to shift their ideas regarding religion; having grown up in a rather conservative and religious environment, some started to question them validity of a God who would abandon them in war. owen's poem, 'Exposure' shows this with lines such as 'For the love of God seems dying'. 

Chapter 14
The church chapter - it begins with a hymn number, immediately establishing both the setting and the focus of the chapter. 
It has a large emphasis on 'Abraham's sacrifice of his son'. This may relate symbolically to the generals sacrificing the younger soldiers on their behalf, while also 'you could see the fear'. 
Key Quote: 'If you, who are young and strong, will obey me, who am old and weak, even to the extent of being prepared to sacrifice your life, then in the course of time you will peacefully inherit, and be able to exact the same obedience from your sons'. 

Perhaps this scene primarily intends to convey the corruption of both war and religion - something considered so revered in childhood is now amoral and disreputable. 

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- Though he considers himself to be alone (also the only fully fictional character), he is ironically representative of the many. 
-  Prior seems to feel an outsider: 'he was neither fish nor fowl'. He claims he had hoped war would give him a sense of identity - 'you might like to think it's one big happy family out there, but it's not. they despise eachother'. 

    • Despite hopes for a 'classless war', in reality, lords became generas etc whereas lower classes were sent on suicide missions, the men bickering towards eachother as to their class and honour. 

- Chapter 7 - Barker says that Prior was 'wheezing very badly', therefore unable to continue watching the film with the others; this also results in his refusal back into the army. This detaches him completely from the others, providing another reason - aside from his class - that he is considered an outcast. 
- Prior's accurate knowledge of the military caste system depicts the different class status for the same military rank

Sarah's mother - Ada: 
- Ada seems determined that Sarah should be acting of a high class - should have married rich (not for love) and been comfortable. She constantly uses language like 'You don't say "what" Sarah, you say "pardon"'. 
- Ironically, she uses language like 'it's too much bloody bother', showing even herself to be of a ower class. Perhaps this desire to be of a higher class derivers from a need to be accepted. 

It's perhaps also important to consider even Sassoon with regards to class. For example, he is able to go golfing etc with Rivers fitting in apointmemnts around these golf schedules while at Craiglockhart, likely due to his class and reputation. Rivers, in contrast, is often quite rude to Prior - this is never spoken, but the narrator writes that Rivers thought of Prior as 'cuckoo-backed to the point where normal conversation became almost impossible'. Getting into Rivers' mind allows the readers to see the facade he erects when talking to the lower class versus upper class.

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