Wilfred Owen exposes the misleading propaganda through his negative insights conveying betrayal and the physical and psychological atrocities of war as integral aspects of conflict and war. He explores this within “Dulce Et Decorum Est” (1917) which follows young men who are subjected to the false glorification, rivalling the war’s unexpected physical and psychological effects on soldiers. Similarly, “Disabled” (1917) focuses on a survivor of the government’s callous behaviour who cannot conquer the scarring ramifications of war.
As a war poet who disagreed with the views of jingoistic propagandists sweeping society into the misleading glorification of war, based on his personal experiences, Owen uses his poetry as a medium to effectively educate society of war’s harsh realities, warning responders of its irrationality at the costs imposed. The betrayal within warfare stems Owen’s critical insights of war, which amidst of the heavy propaganda, alerts individuals of the government’s deceptive ways. This is conveyed in “Dulce”, composed in reply to retaliate false glorifications of war, like Jessie Pope’s “Who’s for the Game?” highlighting war’s unforeseen calamitous circumstances. The ironic title “Dulce Et Decorum Est” which translates to ‘It is sweet and glorious’ is used to entice responders into the poem, combining connotations of glory and honour, however they are instead defied with a satirical poem subverting from the glory of war. Furthermore, Owen condemns the government’s betrayal through vivid imagery capturing the gruesome, visceral nature of war to powerfully contradict the perceptions of propagandists and expose their fallacious accusations. This can be illustrated through the metaphor of the persona’s traumatising experience behind the ‘misty panes and thick green light’ as his comrade unromantically gutters, chokes and drowns in the ‘green sea’, an image which is confronting and showcases the reality of fear within war.
Through direct speech, Owen concludes the poem by sarcastically calling out to his ‘friend’, presumably Jessie Popes, accusing poets like her for victimising soldiers who were once ‘innocent’ and just ‘children’ into the violent nature of war through ‘The Old Lie’ that it is sweet and honourable to die for one’s country. Thus, by revealing the true brutalities of war, Owen teaches society to not be blinded by such false glorifications of sacrifice and warfare. Similarly, “Disabled” centres on a young individual betrayed by the propagandist glorifications as Owen encourages individuals to not sway over ambiguous patriotism due to their naïve and curious young selves. At his young age, the persona believed that if he enlisted, his bravery would ‘please his Meg’ or even, ‘the giddy jilts’, however, upon his return, the persona faces rejection, becoming isolated as the simile proclaims “they all touch him like some queer disease”. Combining the connotations of death as a result, dehumanises the persona, distorting the ideal glorious perceptions of war. Owen further reiterates the misleading perceptions of propagandists as he recounts how some cheered the persona home, “But not as crowds cheer Goal” notable through the repetition the chiasmus has created, in which the lacking commemoration contrasts greatly to the capitalised ‘Goal’; symbolic of what enlisters had anticipated. Overall, through heavy contradiction, Owen educates society of the extent of the government’s callousness, reinforcing the idea that society should not be so susceptible of their beliefs.
Moreover, Owen explores to effectively communicate his nihilistic insight of war in “Dulce” through the portrayal of war’s physical and psychological demands, deteriorating soldiers who endured the warfront. Through this, Owen challenges society to realise the scarring ramifications of war, emphasising its irrationality. The scene is set with two similes to accurately depict the prematurely aged soldiers who are “Bent double, like old beggars” and “Knock Kneed coughing like hags”. The mimicking established through the broken iambic pentameter and alliteration of the hard consonance ‘k’ sound supports the recreation of the scene, enhancing the responders’ experience. This conjures visual and sensory imagery of the impoverished and accounts for the soldier’s disjoint efforts to evoke the distressing pain and exhaustion as an evocative depiction of warfare is communicated. Owen further instigates the emotional turmoil of war suspending importance, as he calls for immediacy through the two-line stanza. The shift of tense foreshadows the inescapable recalling in the present as in all the persona’s dreams, his comrade ‘plunges’ at him, ‘guttering, choking, drowning’.
The apparent tricolon stresses the reminiscing impression which compels responders to become immersed in the appalling images that continuously haunt the persona. Hence, by pre-setting responders into the setting of war, Owen successfully teaches society to overlook the detrimental consequences, effectively implying the irrationality of war. Consequently, “Disabled” highlights the physical and psychological tolls of war, however focusing towards its scarring effect in the aftermath. Through this, Owen cautions responders that the consequences of war are lifelong and inevitable. Responders are first provoked with a bold visualisation of the persona’s disfigured state through the graphical imagery in “Legless, sewn short at elbow”, conveying battered limbs from war’s physical pressures. Yet what becomes subconsciously discerning is the persona’s mental burden which responders are influenced to experience through the grammatical inconsistencies pronounced to signify the persona’s regret and anger of enlistment; recalling “That’s why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg”. The semicolons and commas used causes the persona to pause frequently, creating a detached flow, reflecting his choking emotions as he criticises his past identity who was vulnerable to the enlistment propaganda engaged.
Additionally, the change of the persona’s mentality is striking against the contrastingly vibrant anecdotal references where “About this time Town used to swing so gay”, instead the persona is metaphorically ‘waiting for the dark’ expressing a double meaning which euphemises death, hinting the persona’s mental corruption at the abnormality of the anticipation of death. Correspondingly, Owen educates society of the permanent horrors convincingly securing awareness towards the pointlessness of war. In conclusion, Owen effectively exposes his conflicting insights of war, through the exploration of the thematic themes of betrayal and the physical and psychological atrocities of war. Within “Dulce” and “Disabled” Owen teaches society to distrust misleading propaganda educating of the calamitous consequences that follow. Ultimately, through teaching based off his personal experiences which depict his insights of war, Owen becomes more than just a war poet, he was an educator.
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