Representation of War in Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est” and Jarrell’s “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner”

This paper attempts to portray the soldiers’ traumatic situation during World War I and World War II through two representative poems. War and conflict-related issues have been portrayed in various ways across the world. This paper tries to unravel how traumatic feelings of the soldiers have been exposed through these poems.

So, the psychological aspect of the soldiers and their agony of suffering are going to be presented within this paper. Wilfred Owen’s “Dulce Et Decorum Est” is a compelling poem and is trying to depict the helplessness of soldiers caught in a Gas Chamber. The persona describes the general condition of the men involved in the war, their condition after a shock of a gas attack and then, describing the effect of it on someone who lives through it.

Also, Read: A Summary of Representation, Meaning, and Language by Stuart Hall

The pathetic scenario of the soldiers in the battlefield is blood flowing everywhere but no any people to cry for, eyes on the move to survive, the frustration kills from inside but still hopes the way out. Headshots, firing sounds, even a single wrong move can make the end, just waiting at the corner and defending self. Waiting for the day to come and to survive but there is still the same pain. Memories come as a slide show which is the only motivation and inspiration, every soldier there just hoping to survive the mission. Wait the night not to end and still breathe a surviving life and think to go back home safe. There comes the sign of war next day and goes with a dreadful imagination not sure whether will survive the day, the war starts and the attacking begins the enemies shot down and so the colleagues, the day again ends with a dreadful journey and thank god for the life again.

The first poem “Dulce Et Decorum Est” by British poet Wilfred Owen portrays the pity of the soldiers who had lost their life. Some had lost their parts of their body, overfilled with blood and gone lame and deaf. “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” also gives the brutal life which the soldiers had to live till the day he was a fetus. Both of the poems “Dulce Et Decorum Est” and “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” present the plight context of war. These two poems do not belong to the same time of war but can be compared because both of them have been written to show that it is good to die for one’s country. Each poem states the death of the man for his country. Owen begins:

“Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed / through sludge” (1-2).

The soldiers, here are totally ill, treated like an old beggar going through the dreadful condition but also trying to fulfill the mission. “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” is also trying to show the same condition of the soldiers as in the former poem. Each poem shows the struggle and hardships of the soldier at the time of war.

When we read or talk about the war poems, we love to see the glory of soldiers, their patriotic deeds but these poems do not show the praise of the soldiers. Rather it shows the trauma, they get after surrounded by the gas chamber for the first time and attacked by the bomb. Wilfred Owen has presented war as the horrifying dream that leads to the traumatic state as: “Owen says that war is hell. In ‘Mental Cases’, the traumatized soldiers inhabit a twilight world that Owen describes as death in life” (110).

The failure in war doesn’t give the soldiers full glory and they suffer from a psychological disorder. The First World War has faced many things for the first time like the mustard gas attack made them clumsy. They know that war always does not give them victory but they have not forgotten their responsibility as Cambridge Checkpoints HSC Standard English states:

“Even in the depths of their trauma, they know that war is a collective responsibility even if they are the ones who have been singled out for suffering” (111).

Same as the Wilfred Owen, Randall Jarrell has also tried to portray the war as the suffering of the soldiers in the poem ‘The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner”. Jarrell begins his poem as:

“From my mother’s sleep I feel into the State, and I hunched in its belly till my wet fur froze” (1-2).

This explains that from the day when the persona is in his mother’s womb, he had already dedicated his life to his state. Born from the warm womb of his mother has to go through the freezing, cold and dangerous life surrounded by the bomb. There is no glory to be found in the poems rather they are treated as poor and brutal human being.

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It is an image Jarrell has used an airman-fetus born into the new life of death into which danger, injury, and extremes of suffering have catapulted him. Living within a sense of his own life as suspended for the duration of the war, Jarrell saw the soldier’s life as an otherness, a dream of being in which glimpses of different and better realities were clearly presented. So, Jarrel has approached war not as a victory or an identity but as a mode of confusion. The least successful poems must directly approach battle, in dramatic settings concentrating not on character but on the dilemma. The poem shows that from the time at the fetus stage inside his mother’s womb, the soldiers fell on for their state. So, in this condition, they have to face many difficulties and have to show their responsibility for the sake of their country. In this condition, they go through the mental illness which we can say as the

traumatized state of the soldiers. Jarrell has portrayed war, not as only the glory but it also causes the traumatic state as John Whitter-Ferguson claims:

“The Second War inevitably provoked (and continues to provoke) comparison and connection with the First; to those who had lived through the years 1914-1918, history itself could seem caught in a pattern of traumatic recall” (111).

Both of the poems have mentioned the horrified dreams of life and the haunting nightmare. These haunting nightmares and dreams can be the reason for the exception of trauma. War all the time doesn’t make the warrior feel proud. There is no guarantee that the soldiers always return with the safe and sound landing. And thus, both the poets try to show the same to the readers through the poem. Robin Truda states that:

“Nightmares, the repetitive dreams of trauma such as those resulting from experiences of war, are considered as exceptions to his dream theory. This conceptual dilemma is explored, taking into account the development of his theories of dreaming, the pleasure principle, trauma, and war neuroses. Possible contextual and personal explanations for this curious an anomaly are considered” (1).

Sigmund Freud had also talked about the trauma caused during war and after the war and Cathy Caruth begins as:

“The questions raised by war trauma concerning the nature of life thus require a new model for psychoanalytic thinking and, in particular, for the relation between psychoanalysis and history” (24).

Although the poem by Wilfred Owen “Dulce Et Decorum Est” and Randall Jarrell “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” are written by different poets of different century but the theme of the poems are same. Both the poems try to picture the time of world war that the soldiers are meant to fight for their country. Not only that the title of the first poem itself

shows us the devotion towards their own country. The last line in the poem Dulce Et Decorum Est “Pro patria mori” (28) means it is sweet and glorious to die for one’s country. The second poem “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner” compares the soldiers with the fetus inside the womb of his mother portrays the picture of the soldiers inside the ball turret gunner. This poem also tries to say the same that from his mother’s sleep he has to fight for his state.

In most of the war poetry, we can see the victory of the warrior, the glorious thing said by the poet. However, in these poems, both of the poets have shown the brutality of the war from the inside looking. These poems deal with the big issues of life like life’s fragility, the inescapability of the death, power and role of the state and the very important thing, the horrors of war that drags a person in the pool of trauma.

Works Cited

“Cambridge Checkpoints HSC Standard English .” n.d. War_Poems_and_Others. 14 June 2016

Caruth, Cathy. “Parting Words: Trauma, Silence, and Survival .” Intervalla (2014): 24.

Jarrell, Randall. “The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner.” Ferguson, Margaret. The Norton Anthology of Poetry. USA: Norton and Company, 2005. 71.

Owen, Wilfred. “Dulce Et Decorum Est.” Ferguson, Margaret. The Norton Anthology of Peotry. USA: Norton and Company, 2005. 70.

Truda, Robin. “Nightmares: the Navel of Freud’s.” Ajppsychotherapy (2011): 1. Whitter-Ferguso, John. “Always a War Poet: Randall Jarrell and the.” Wlajournal (n.d.): 111


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