RC Sherriff: Thoughts and Analysis

Article Link: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/authors/rc-sherriff-writer-couldnt-escape-horror-trenches/

This article details about the difficulties that RC Sherriff had encountered, not only in his WWI years, but during the production process of Journey’s End. At the time of its conception, the entertainment climate was mostly bright, energetic, and optimistic. Journey’s End contrasted this with its grim, realistic portrayal of war. This article does mention however that the play was received with warm regards in the naturalistic acting aspect. The main argument here is that most critic reviews miss the big picture that Sherriff is trying to display; instead of calling for a pacifist society, Sherriff is highlighting both the heroism of soldiers as well as the harsh environment that no human being should experience, further pushing the idea of heroism.

I would have to agree with both the columnist and Sherriff on this one, as the play itself holds non-exaggerated, realistic character archetypes. Despite their understandable fear and anxiety, the soldiers within Journey’s End are able to enter the battlefield again and again, knowing that their lives would eventually be taken in the battlefield. These are portrayal of acts of heroism, rather than the lives of heroes. I find this to be especially important as in reality, everybody has their own flaws. Alcoholism, cowardice, all these things are a part of some of us, but that does not take away from the certain moments that define our greatest moments.

As I re-read and analyse the play after this article about RC Sherriff, I’m sure to focus emotional flaws that create the realistic portrayals of the characters. From Stanhope’s alcoholism, to the naivety of Raleigh, I’m sure that Sherriff twists such characters in a way that their sacrifices are great regardless. Just as the article details, “war is loathsome and yet it leads to perhaps the most inspiring feats of heroism”.

Realism and Naturalism within Journey’s End

Before I discuss how realism and naturalism is utilized within the play Journey’s End, I need to define what both terms mean. Realism, in terms of art and drama at least, is the attempt of the creator to adhere towards the accuracy of actual real-life within their own representation. In art, this could be tied towards the art style of photo-realism, or even just the attempts at drawing still-life. On the other hand, naturalism (in the case of drama) is–as defined by the dictionary–a style and theory of representation based on the accurate depiction of detail. Therefore, a set designer for a play would be attempting to replicate the entirety of the setting down towards the prop models, background, clothing, etc. Because of this, these two concepts are fairly similar, allowing for some to use them interchangeably within performing arts.

Sheriff, being an actual captain within World War One, underwent the trauma and horrors of war itself. This experience lends itself within the play as the actions portrayed by the characters echo very human emotions. By human, I refer towards the less romanticized aspects such as cowardice, as shown by Hibbert as he attempts to leave the battlezone. In addition towards this, the idea of “normalcy”, or rather the characters acting as if nothing wrong were going on, is often alluded to within the opening scenes of the play. For the audience this may clash against their perception of steel-hard soldiers valiantly fighting against the enemy, but for actual soldiers such as Sheriff himself, this references towards an actual feeling that soldiers had as they patiently waited for their final battle to begin. The characterizations of such characters add an actual human element, further pushing the element of realism within Journey’s End. This is unlike other portrayals of war, where heroism is glorified and the protagonists win the conflict in the end. As for naturalism, the stage description within the transcript describes the setting and how the characters interact. Sheriff’s own experience within trench dugouts and tunnels are highlighted by the dreary living conditions that the play portrays. With the wire netting, bare furniture, and wood framing, Sheriff by no means is romanticizing the concept of war, further pushing realism concept that war is unforgiving and harsh towards the young soldiers who fight within it.

Green Rice: Introductory Thoughts

Looking at the introductory text towards the Green Rice poem collection, I can clearly see that these poems are not just a reflection of the poet Lâm Thị Mỹ Dạ’s history, but also commentary on the limited social standing that women have within society. Lâm Thị Mỹ Dạ also mentions specifically the “traditionally Confucian culture”(xiii) as to blame for this gender imbalance of right; however, having said that it seems that she doesn’t question the validity of such beliefs. Instead, she establishes that women can be more capable than given credit for, all thanks towards their “cultural base” (xiii). I find this particularly interesting as this distances her from other feminist poets, but this could all stem from her specific upbringing as a young Vietnamese girl growing up in the Vietnam war.

The introduction also specifically mentions the motif of passing time, which most certainly is prevalent–especially after reading through the poem collection myself. Taking into consideration of the examples given in the introduction and the poems themselves, Lâm Thị Mỹ Dạ flitters through different perspectives of women, being both young and old at certain times. I like to think that Lâm Thị Mỹ Dạ does this to represent not only women of her age and stature, but also the young girls and old women that also contributed towards the war. In class, we also read certain articles on the different roles that Vietnamese women had during the Vietnam War, and I noticed that across different historical recounts, the role that Vietnamese women had are unfortunately underrated. To me, it seems very likely that Lâm Thị Mỹ Dạ is not only writing these poems to reflect upon her life, but also the thousands of women during the Vietnam War.

Regarding form, this introduction also talks about how the English translation was adapted from the original collection of poems written in Vietnamese. I’m surprised that the translator had such in-depth conversations with Lâm Thị Mỹ Dạ, meaning that the English version wasn’t just a simple literal translation. Instead, different literary devices such as the poems’ flow, were “translated” as well through the lack of punctuation in separate lines. I think that although the emotional connection of the Vietnamese language is clearly disregarded in the English translation, the emotional weight of such translations allow Martha Collin’s version of Green Rice to be just as valuable as an insight into the perspective of Vietnamese women in the Vietnam War and its aftermath.