Breakdown Of The Constructed Masculine Ideals

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These constructed notions of masculine identities were broken soon when these men came face to face with the dehumanizing horrors of the war. The psychological torture due of the trench warfare was something that they had never witnessed before. One poem that describes the breakdown of the masculine identity after the soldier survives the war is ‘Pluck’ by Eva Dobell. The poem talks about a soldier who is crippled in the war. The poet in the third verse of the first paragraph says that maybe it would have been better to have died in the trenches that having to survive and live for the rest of the life as a cripple. The soldier is depicted as being afraid and vulnerable, qualities that were contrary to the promoted masculine identities. The reader can see that the soldier himself questions as to why was he the victim of an aimless war. The poem also highlights the disillusionment of the soldier with respect to the idea of his physical strengths. The mechanised warfare resulted in disables soldiers. This disability in turn gave way to a confused sense of gender because now their bodies were immobilized and unable to perform the same tasks that their gender roles mandated. The shock of the betrayal of the body was also heightened because of earlier glorification of the male prowess.

“Crippled for life at seventeen,

His great eyes seems to question why:

with both legs smashed it might have been

Better in that grim trench to die

Than drag maimed years out helplessly.”

Subsequently this also resulted in the breakdown of the beliefs that they had about the war. This was reflected in the poems written after the war began.

“She said to one: ‘How light

Must your freed heart be now,

After the heavy fight!”

He said: ‘Well I don’t know…..

The war gave one a shake,

Somehow, knocked one awake…..

Now, life’s so deadly slow.”

The above lines are from Elizabeth Daryush’s poem titled ‘Subalterns’. It clearly depicts the fear and anxiety that the soldiers faced post war and also the rejection of the false notions about the war. The poem does not mask the horrors of the war thereby destroying the glorified images of the war. The vulnerability of the soldiers which is not a quality that aligns with their constructed gender identity comes forth.

On the other hand there were poets who wrote poems that dealt with the ideas of escapism, where the soldiers were depicted longing for the comforts of the home and the loved ones. Here there is a voluntary abandonment of the gender identity.

“He was wounded and he fell in the midst of hoarse shouting.

The tide passed, and the waves came and whispered about his ankles.

Far off he heard a cock crow — children laughing,

Rising at dawn to greet the storm of petals

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Shaken from apple-boughs; he heard them cry,

And turned again to find the breast of her,

And sank confused with a little sigh…

Thereafter water running, and a voice

That seemed to stir and flutter through the trenches

And set dead lips to talking…”

These lines from the poem titled ‘Fallen’ by Alice Corbin is an illustration of the disillusionment experienced by the soldiers which results in their yearning for the comforts of the homefront.

On the other hand there were also poems that dealt with a sense of alienation that the soldiers felt from the home front. This was partly due to their understanding that the people at the homefront did not understand the war or the harshness of it. From the perspective of the soldiers who survived the war, the people at the home fronts were safe from the shells that had traumatised them. An example of this could the following verses from the poem “Transport of Wounded in Mesopotamia, 1917” by Margery Lawrence.

“You who sat safe at home

And let us die

You who said ‘all was well’

And knew the lie….

(Fever and flies and sand

Sand and fever and flies

Till the end of each weary day

Saw the wearier night arise!)

You who sat safe at home

And let us die!”

Lawrence through the above lines reflects on the mind frame of the soldiers who felt alienated from the home fronts. They condemn the idea of the people back home went along with the lies told about the war.

The truth that only they had to fight and the way the women went on about their daily chores did not feel right to them. The women regarding the men only as heroes and celebrating them after their deaths which they label as sacrifice for the nation seems to bother the soldiers.”

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