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Within the novel Regeneration, there is a strong emphasis on the relationships presented between men, with Barker emphasising the idea of ambiguity between conflicting (or coexisting) feelings of camaraderie and romance. In this way, there is a thin line between ‘the right kind of love’ and something all together less platonic. Barker’s exploration of these competing perspectives allows Regeneration to comment on attitudes to homosexuality that were prevalent in the era of World War I, and to cast those attitudes against more modern and politically progressive responses to homosexual relationships.
Barker emphasises the idea of camaraderie in terms of hero worship in particular, by referring to the relationship Sassoon had with the other soldiers from the front line. Graves states that ‘the men worship him….And he loves them. being separated from them would kill him’ – referring to the forced separation that occurred due to Sassoon’s declaration. With this quotation, we get a sense of the camaraderie that exists between the men and the mutual respect and care which also seems to be a fundamental aspect of their relationships. As Sassoon was known for being brave, nicknamed as ‘Mad Jack’, he is worshiped by the men as they admire the sacrifices that he is willing to make. Though this is ironic as, in reality, Sassoon’s actions of recklessness were an attempt to get himself killed, showing how the definition of a ‘hero’ became synonymous for suicidal. While in any other context this may be perceived as cowardly, his behaviour is praised as the death would have been on behalf of the country. In the same way that the younger soldiers admire Sassoon, he too ‘loves them’ suggesting a genuine aspect to their friendships. As well as this, it implies that Sassoon acts as a fatherly figure to the men, in the way that he is anxious to be close to them, not unlike a parental figure. While it is Rivers who is often adopted as a father figure, Sassoon in his role as General also plays the role and looks after the younger men, thus highlighting their youth and innocence. While being separated from the men, and consequently the war zone, is actually what is keeping Sassoon’s safe and alive, Graves argues that it is being apart from them that is really ‘kill[ing]’ him. This shows the co-dependence that the men had in each other, acting as one anothers life lines during battle. Overall, this relates to the idea of trust and loyalty between the men during the war.
Camaraderie is also presented between Rivers and Sassoon, with their relationship extending past the point of being merely patient and doctor. This is shown when they are discussing Sassoon’s return to the front line, as River’s says ‘you know i’ll go on doing anything I can for you’. This implies that Rivers is acting as a parental figure by doing his best to ensure that Sassoon gets what he needs, as well as a bringing to mind the idea of protection. This is similar to how Graves puts his reputation on the line to help Sassoon after his declaration, with both men committed to doing whatever they can to protect Sassoon. The use of ‘you know’ suggests that a mutual understanding exists between the two, linking with the idea of trust. In addition to this, Sassoon’s previous reference to the officers as ‘them’, while he and Rivers are ‘us’ also shows this, in the way it creates the idea of sides; He and River’s are on the same side, loyal to one another. The fact that the enemy to Sassoon is no longer the Germans, but people of his own nationality, shows his attitude towards those in authority and the idea that the real enemy is internal. Contrastingly, he and Rivers have a strong bond, emphasising the idea of camaraderie, even outside of the trenches.
However, Barker seems to make an active effort to interlink the idea of homosexuality with platonic relationships, crucially referring to the lack of acceptance for romantic love between men. An example of such is shown when Sassoon says ‘This…this abominable thing must’ve been there all the time and he didn’t see it’, in reference to Grave’s negative reaction towards his friend being gay. The word ‘abominable’ is harsh, but represents the commonly held opinions of people at the time. In the time period it was illegal to be homosexual and love between men was perceived as only acceptable if it was strictly platonic. Contrastingly, a modern reader would be more accepting of the idea of homosexuality, therefore Sassoon’s phrasing is uncomfortable to hear, despite the fact that it was a common sentiment expressed during war time. It is interesting to note that the WW1 era attitudes and modern day attitudes to both homosexuality and war have essentially swapped over time. Most people today would view war as a negative thing, while during WW1, patriotism ensured that there was strong support for the war effort. More so is the idea of changing attitudes towards sexuality, and the idea that love between those of the same sex is now acceptable, regardless of whether it is platonic, while before it was not. Barker is perhaps creating this dramatic contrast between the past and the present in order to criticise the attitudes that perpetuated society previousy.
This modern prospective – that homosexuality is acceptable – is one which is put forward by Sassoon, dramatically contradicting with views of the time, as shown by Rivers’ scathing, or perhaps realistic, reaction. Sassoon states ‘I thought things were getting better’, showing that from his perspective love between men was becoming more widely accepted. In contrast, Rivers argues that ‘It’s time you grew up. Started living in the real world’. The age difference between the two is made obvious with this exchange, with Sassoon coming across as more ignorant to reality, as well as to the consequences that could arise should he stop ‘toe[ing] the line’. Rivers also seems to perceive the idea of acceptance of homosexuality as unrealistic by saying ‘grow up’, as if the wish to live openly is nothing more than an unattainable pipe dream that will never come true. At the time that the novel was being written, the age of consent had been recently lowered from 21 to 16 for homosexuals in the UK, showing that same sex relationships were being viewed as more equal to heterosexual relationships. Barker may had included Rivers cynicism as a contrast to the progress that had been made, creating the idea of hope, regardless of how bleak the future may appear. This is an idea that may extend to war, with many people believing that the horrific casualties of war would lead to a brighter future in the long run. Though not completely free from discrimination, the current situation for gay men and women alike is a step closer to the idyllic society that Sassoon longs for, and the society that Rivers doesn’t let himself believe in.
Lastly it is important to note the significance of the fact that the word ‘homosexuality’ is not mentioned throughout the entire novel, representing the stigma behind it at the time that the word and the sexuality was perceived to be something dirty. The ambiguous reference to ‘that kind of love’, though never stating same sex love explicitly, may represent the struggle that society had in accepting love between men, and may even mirror the internal struggle that those questioning their sexuality experienced themselves.
Overall, Barker presents the idea that camaraderie was a crucial aspect of life for men during World War One, focusing on the idea of hero worship and codependence, while also alluding to the concept of romance between the troops. In Regeneration, the line between platonic feelings and romantic feelings is presented as being thin, despite society’s attempts to ignore the latter. War in this conception promotes intimacy, alongside danger and despair.
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