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Regeneration | Motifs


Healing and Change

The road to recovery in the novel takes many forms and leads to different types of change in different men. Rivers is a healer, but he heals in order to send recovered soldiers back to the front lines. Healing occurs for men who suffer from either or both physical or mental illness brought on by their war experience.

The novel explores how different modes of healing lead to changes in both the healers and the healed. Soldiers who experience some degree of healing often have different fates: some may be returned to the fighting, others may return to desk duty or civilian life. Rivers himself experiences a type of self-healing, despite not being physically injured, that dramatically changes his view of the war.


The motif of emasculation, or the loss of manhood, recurs in several parts of the novel. Some soldiers suffer physical emasculation from wounds to the groin. In most cases, however, the emasculation explored in the book revolves around the loss of agency, or the power to act on one's own behalf.

The soldiers in the hospital are under the complete control of the doctors and nurses, who are themselves controlled by the military. The soldiers are powerless, which itself is a kind of emasculation. British society's notions of manhood intensify the suffering emasculation causes the men. Fighting is manly; being wounded—physically or mentally—and unable to fight is unmanly. Even though the soldiers' wounds come from their service to their country, they are made to feel less than men if they can no longer fight.

The motif of emasculation is strongly tied into the theme of manliness and its corresponding issues of emotion, caring, conscience, sexual identity, and sacrifice.

Class, Snobbery, and Women in War

During the World War I era—and still to some extent today—British society was highly stratified and class-conscious. People's status was determined by their dialect or accent, their schooling, their parents' jobs, where they grew up, and where they lived as adults. Upper-class Brits generally looked down on those in the middle, lower, and working classes.

Sassoon is the prime example of an upper-class officer who spends his time chasing upper-class pursuits, such as playing golf and lounging at the "club" for upper-class gentlemen. Rivers, too, is most likely from the upper echelons of society, although he shows compassionate understanding for his lower-class patients.

Note the off-handed, often snide, dismissive, and insulting put-downs the upper-class men in the hospital use so casually to describe those they deem beneath them. Note, too, the privileges and special treatment the upper-class soldiers receive compared with the treatment meted out to "lesser" men.

The women portrayed in the novel are working-class women who labor in munitions factories to both aid the war effort and earn good wages. They are portrayed with truth and appreciative understanding of their class, their worth, and their ambitions and experiences. Although the upper-class men in the book do not interact with lower-class women, the most caring, intimate, and emotional connection is made between working-class characters, specifically Sarah Lumb and Billy Prior.

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