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Word count: 1493
Mental Cases is a very descriptive example of the true horrors that occurred in the first world war, the author Wilfred Owen was born 1893 and went to the field where he died (1918). Mental Cases is a poem that explores the theme of war, product of an interview made to patients who had suffered the horrors of the war. In the poem, the main characters are surrounded by a huge amount of negative experiences. The title Mental Cases begins to reflect the It’s characteristic focus on the mental illnesses and traumas these people went through and suffered, there is a strong use of the techniques “imagery” and “symbolism”, in essence Mental Cases is a poem that wants to give voice to these soldiers’ experiences so other people can feel (even if it is for a second) what going to the front was truly about, intending to take down this notion of heroism used to promote and encourage people on going into the war.
In the first stanza, there are some short statements ended with question marks which reflects that the main character does not where he is and what is happening, “who are these? Why sit they here in twilight?”, In essence, the first stanza wants to transmit this notion of vulnerability, blindness, the short understanding of the reasons why everything around them is happening. The first and the second stanza link together as the first line of the poem is opened with a question, its answer found in the 10th line, the opening of the second stanza “these are men whose minds the Dead have ravished” clearly saying that the death of people especially companions are deeply perturbing their minds. The intention of the second stanza is to show the reader the experiences of soldiers going to war. The last stanza intends to reflect that the pain is still there, even though that have been socialised to hide those feelings and were told that they are heroes for surviving the war.
As an overall judgment of the piece made by Wilfred Owen, I feel a mixture of sadness and pessimism at the same time I like the fact that its main intention which is to give voice and say truths about the war is been successful, its mood is mainly angry because nobody is paying attention to the huge pain they have to deal with. The language of the poem wants to be perceived informal because its intention is to let the reader feel the same way soldiers used to feel and a more colloquial language makes it easier as it is the way we speak in our everyday life. This poem is the product of an interview made to ex-soldiers and Owen’s experiences in the war, so sometimes he includes himself in the poem, therefore there is a mixture of first and third person. The narrator appears broken inside and angry. All the stanzas link together but also allude different things, the first one makes questions, the second answer those questions and describes events and the last one explains the consequences of those events.
Language and intention
As mentioned, the first stanza mainly to transmits confusion. In the first line “these” could refer to the soldier wondering who are the people we are killing or who are the people killing each other; “why sit they here in twilight?” to my personal understanding this means that they wonder why these people are here in this particular place at this particular moment when they could be anywhere else in the world; “wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows” it makes a reference to the particular place they are sitting in, the middle of the war, place in which they have high chances of dying but they are still alive making a reference to the “shadows of the purgatorial” coming for them (Purgatory: an intermediate state after death for expiatory purification. “Baring teeth that leer like skulls’ teeth wicked?” this could be interpreted as the soldier discovering people’s wicked smiles? Owen here does not even want to use the word smile or mouth, he uses the word “teeth” and skulls to emphasise and then it compares them evilness creating an image of the perverse human that only desires death and gives hatred, this line is also a representation of the limits humans can reach. “Stroke on stroke of pain but what a slow panic” it symbolizes the continuous pain that never goes away; the panic represents the intense fear that has ended up in panic, it is slow because they know that the enemy could show up anytime to finish them off.
The second stanza is a descriptive representation of the experiences soldier went through during the First World War. It begins with the answer to the questions made in the first stanza “these are men whose minds the Dead have ravished” a hyperbole is used to describe the actions made by “the Dead” to people, this line links both stanzas using repetition. “Multitudinous murders they once witnessed” describes each of the soldiers’ death as “murders” transmits the pain and they are suffering for each lost, this line also makes the reader question the mental pain somebody would go through just having to witness one person’s death. “Wanding sloughs of flesh these helpless wander” to my own judgement this is one of the most brutal uses of imagery in the whole poem as is saying that the soldiers were basically walking on top of pieces of dead bodies, using the word “helpless” transmits the idea of no choice from soldiers, they had to do it and had to be there, there is nothing they could do at that moment to change their situation. “treading blood from lungs that had love laugher”, this line begins with the use of imagery again “treading”, here Owen wants to give voice to the dead, claiming that at some point these people were alive and had feelings “had love laugher”, but even though they had love in the past now they are just nothing, a mere remembrance. “Always they must see these things and hear them” here “always” means even after the war, by “must” symbolises the no choice they had for having to witnessed certain things, the rest of the line seems to suggest that they are having nightmares in which the can still “see these things and hear them”. The next line is an obvious reference to the things the must-hear “batter of guns” and see “shatter of flying muscles” mentioned in the previous line. “Carnage incomparable and human squander” imagery is used again here, then refers to the lives wasted during the war and the absolute null caring from the government. “Rucked too thick for these men’s extrication” this can be a reference to all those horrible experiences way to hard for these men’s mental liberation or salvation.
The third and last stanza is used to express the consequences of the experiences described in the second stanza. “therefore” (as a consequence of) “still their eyeballs shrink tormented” expresses that because of what has happened their eyes shrink to not see and therefore remember. The next two lines make a clear reference to their mental illness “back into their brains” as it is the biggest pain the deal with justifying that “on their sense sunlight seems a blood-smear; night comes blood-black” for them the only difference between day and night is that during the day the blood seems red and during the night black. “thus their heads wear this hilarious, hideous, awful falseness of set-smiling corpses” it wants to represent soldiers that came back from the war mentally hurt and the behaviour they had to show to society, this line gives the reader the image of a broken smile shown to people that just do not know what has happened to them. “thus their hands are plucking at each other; picking at the rope-knouts of their scouring” these two lines are the representation of one of the true meanings of war which is the will to kill the enemy risking your own life. “Snatching after us who smote them, brother,” by “them”, Owen refers to the people they have killed (“smote”) suggesting that the dead are after them torturing inside their minds. “Pawing us who dealt them war and madness” by the use of the word “pawing” Owen wants to show again, one of the worst sides of humans as that word is usually used for animals, the two words Owen uses to finish the poem are separated intending to make the reader understand that dealing with war is something very intense and traumatizing but it also involves having to deal with madness which does not have a cure and stays forever as a scar or a “wound that bleeds afresh”.
An essay based on Mental Cases by Wilfred Owen (1918)
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