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From Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
Jack Firebrace. An honest Tommy.
The Novel Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks is a story of various parts of one mans life, Stephen Wraysford. The first par of the book is a love story, when Stephen Wraysford is living and working in Northern France. The main text of the book is when Stephen Wraysford returns to Northern France again, this time as an officer in the British Army, during the First World War. This is the section in which Jack Firebrace features. The final part of the book is a recurring sub plot set in the seventies.
We initially meet Jack Firebrace in the most horrific circumstances possible. Jack is a miner, tunnelling under enemy positions placing mines in the hope of halting enemy advances.…show more content…
Following our initial encounter with Jack, seeing him emotionally tortured by his own side. We see in Jack a good man, an ordinary man in the most extraordinary of circumstances. We are shown how important his family are to him. His eight year old son John is seriously ill with diphtheria, this prey’s on Jack’s mind. In the death and killing that surround him Jack comforts himself reading letters from his wife.
John Died. In the sea of awfulness that surrounded him Jack sat down and read the words his wife had written. In very simple language she wrote “I have to tell you that our boy died this morning” The starkness of these words appear to underline the tenuous grasp that Jack also has on life. At any moment Jack could be wiped out too. Consistent to the character we have already seen in Jack he tries to pray, to give thanks, however overcome by emotion he can only sob “my boy, my darling boy”. In a premonition to Jack’s fate his wife writes “please do take care of yourself, come home to me”
In a battle scene near Auchenvilliers the troops gathered waiting for “the big push” Meanwhile Jack was wiring up the mines in tunnels underground, sure in the knowledge that their detonation would strengthen the allied positions. However, quite the contrary when the mines were detonated they left an enormous crater to strengthen the enemy’s defences. This allied to the fact that
War Themes In Birdsong By Sebastian Faulks
The structure of Faulk’s Birdsong allows us to observe the impact of the War upon numerous individuals across the generations. Throughout the novel, even outside the 1914-1918 time-frame, Faulks continues to maintain a link between the past and the present through his use of a number of motifs and themes. The lasting impact of the War suggests that history should never be forgotten, which is the paramount message in Birdsong.
In Birdsong, Faulks considers the idea of the War as an ‘exploration of how far men can be degraded’ in terms of the impact that war had upon the individual characters, resulting in dehumanisation. The main feature of being human is individuality. During his three-day-rest, the character Jack reflects that each soldier had the potential to be an individual, but because of the ‘shadow of what awaited them, [they] were interchangeable’ which is an allusion towards the politics of the War; the men were simply seen as statistics. The men search for a fate within the War, demonstrated when Stephen plays cards with the men and claims that Weir would rather have a ‘malign providence than an indifferent one’ which suggests that the men want to feel that someone is planning their future. During a heavy bombardment, Faulks describes that Tipper’s ‘iris lost all light and sense of life’ during his ‘eruption of natural fear’ when the shells land near him. The eyes here are a metaphor for life; it is a human’s eyes which represent individuality and are often described as the window to the soul. Faulks’ description of the loss of light in the eyes suggests that, as a result of the War, Tipper has lost what makes him human. The natural fear and ‘shrill demented sound’ that arises from Tipper is a ‘primitive fear’ which suggests that the men have returned to the early stages of evolution. Faulks further explores the idea of primal behaviour when he describes Stephen’s dugout as having a ‘primitive appearance’ which greatly differs from the descriptions of the Boulevard du Cange where Stephen previously lived, creating a contrast between the two worlds. Faulks’ presentation of the men’s loss of humanity and resorting to primal behaviour allows us to comprehend the impact the War had on individuals.
The idea of the war being ‘beyond nature’ is one which is emphasised by Faulks as it highlights the impact of the War on a large scale; all the men are forced to live in the new reality which gets worse and worse. Following the Battle of the Somme, Faulks describes the ‘crippled sleepers’ rising from the ground, saying that it resembled a ‘resurrection in a cemetery’ ; a simile which represents the fact that the men are now the living dead; their old lives have been stolen from them. Faulks anthropomorphises the soil, saying that the men ‘teemed up from the reluctant earth’ alluding that even nature has turned against the men. The characters Stephen and Weir discuss the atrocities which have occurred during the Battle and Weir becomes...
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