Literature Study GuidesRegenerationPart 1 Chapters 6 7 Summary

Regeneration | Study Guide

Pat Barker

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Regeneration | Part 1, Chapters 6–7 | Summary

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Summary

Chapter 6

Prior's muteness disappears when he wakes up shouting in the middle of the night. He tells Rivers this mutism "comes and goes," and it may come back again "when [he] gets upset." Prior and Rivers discuss their lives before the war. In conversation Prior is smart and clever, yet he still claims he doesn't remember traumatic incidents during combat. He also refuses to talk about his pre-trauma war experiences and his nightmares. Prior states, "I don't think talking helps. It just churns things up and makes them more real." To which Rivers responds, "But they are real." Prior has no reply. Rivers feels Prior's resistance is leading nowhere; he thinks it indicates Prior's unwillingness to be treated and to recover. Prior says he wants to recover, but he only wants treatment that involves hypnosis.

Before Rivers will consider hypnosis he wants Prior to share some of his wartime experiences. Prior describes "standing up to my waist in water in a dugout in the middle of No Man's Land being bombed to buggery." Prior spent days packed in with other soldiers, immersed in muddy water while the Germans lobbed shells at the dugout nonstop. After more than two days in the dugout, Prior is carried to the CCS (casualty clearing station) behind the lines.

Sassoon and Rivers are having a session. Sassoon suggests others must think his Declaration was influenced, even directed, by well-known pacifists of the era, such as Bertrand Russell or Edward Carpenter (1844–1929; poet, philosopher, and pacifist). Sassoon denies any pacifists influenced the letter. Sassoon had visited Carpenter, who was an activist for gay rights, and the conversation becomes awkward. Their discussion of Carpenter's book The Intermediate Sex (1908) eases the atmosphere. They talk about how greatly the book influenced the lives of many men. Sassoon says he was also influenced by Robert Ross (1869–1918), the Canadian journalist, pacifist, and art dealer, who was the lover of Oscar Wilde (1854–190), the brilliant wit and playwright who was jailed for his homosexuality.

Rivers is catching up on some paperwork when he's told Mr. Prior wants to speak with him. Mr. Prior is Billy Prior's father, and he's visiting the hospital with Mrs. Prior. Rivers and Mr. Prior discuss Billy's condition. Mr. Prior had not wanted Billy to enlist and reproaches him for joining up to get away from his boring job as a shipping clerk. Mr. Prior approves of Billy leaving his old job but blames his wife for making her son too ambitious—or trying to rise above his station. Mr. Prior then says Billy was bullied as a young boy. When Billy cried about it, his father slapped him hard and shoved him out the door. Mr. Prior believes "You've got to toughen [boys] up." He admits bullies beat his son badly at times. One day, however, Billy had had enough, and he "half bloody murdered" his tormentor. Still, Mr. Prior says he's not proud of his son being an officer in the army because it's too high class for a boy from a working-class background. As he leaves, Mr. Prior says he'd be a lot prouder of his son if he'd been shot instead of shell-shocked.

Rivers continues working on his reports but is then interrupted by the arrival of Mrs. Prior, Billy's mother. She apologizes for her husband. Rivers notes her voice is "carefully genteel," supporting Mr. Prior's notion that she has ambitions to rise above her class. She admits she's very proud of Billy and says her husband could "never accept that Billy was different." She notes that Billy and his father were not close, even though Billy was "all for the common people."

Rivers is interrupted again by the arrival of Mr. Broadbent, a patient at the hospital who insists he's a captain in the military. Broadbent asks for leave to visit his ailing mother and wants Rivers to put in a good word with Bryce.

Rivers meets Billy Prior after dinner. Prior is wheezing badly from asthma. They talk about Prior's parents. Prior says his father is "a bar-room socialist" who "uses his mother as a football" in the house. Rivers takes Prior to sick bay for his asthma. Rivers is worried about how Prior will be during the night.

Chapter 7

Sassoon wakes up in the middle of the night to the sound of screaming. He reflects on the previous day when his Declaration was read aloud in the House of Commons—the British Parliament. He shakes when he thinks of the other patients at Craiglockhart—their disorders terrify him.

Rivers visits Prior in sick bay. Rivers is relieved to find Prior breathing more easily. Prior admits to "wanting to impress" Rivers, although he thinks that's pathetic. Then Prior tells Rivers he wishes Rivers acted more as himself rather than as featureless wallpaper who doesn't react personally to his patients' confidences. Prior shows Rivers he's reading The Todas, a book about the Toda people of southern India, which Rivers wrote in 1906, when he was doing anthropological studies in Asia. Prior and Rivers discuss the sexual mores of the Toda people. As their conversation gets testy, Rivers again asks Prior to talk about his war experiences. Prior begins talking about snobbery. He admits he encountered snobbery among the officers in France, but it was "not more than I have [encountered] here." Prior describes the qualities he lacks—the right schools and clothes, hunting and riding skills—and his army training in riding like a gentleman. He thinks the whole thing's rubbish. He describes the absurd but fatal punishment three men suffered simply for being caught smoking. They were sent into battle without weapons; two died and the survivor was flogged the next day. Prior bristles at the false notion that there "are no class distinctions" at the front. He describes some of the benefits officers get that lower-class soldiers do not—for example, more time with prostitutes. When Rivers presses Prior to talk about his nightmares, Prior again insists he can't remember. Prior once more mentions his desire for hypnosis, but Rivers explains it might cause problems such as memory loss. Rivers leaves with a sense of foreboding about Prior's hypnosis.

Rivers and Sassoon discuss official reaction to the reading of the Declaration in Parliament. Sassoon begins to stammer when he rages against an item in a newspaper about a 17-year-old soldier killed in action. Sassoon says his roommate Campbell has more coherent ideas about the war than Haig (Field Martial Douglas Haig: 1861–1928). Rivers then offers to nominate Sassoon for the Conservative Club, a club for upper-class men, which pleases Sassoon. Sassoon also says he's sending for his golf clubs so he can play. Rivers thinks it a splendid idea. Rivers then questions Sassoon about his childhood and upbringing.

In his report about Sassoon, Rivers describes Sassoon's 1914 accident, when training a horse, and his bout of trench fever in 1916, when he was sent home to recover. On his return to France, Sassoon was shot in the shoulder in April 1917 and returned to Britain to recover. Rivers notes the magnitude of the slaughter has always horrified Sassoon and led him to believe the war is unjust. Rivers then writes about Sassoon's Declaration against the war, which led to his being sent to Craiglockhart. Rivers insists Sassoon is "intelligent and rational," with no signs of depression. Rivers briefly describes Sassoon's childhood, his illnesses, his going to the right schools, his love of hunting and cricket, and his talent as a poet.

Bryce, Rivers, and the other Medical Officers (MOs) are meeting to discuss their patients. Bryce tells Rivers he gave Mr. Broadbent leave to see to his ailing mother. When the topic turns to Sassoon, Rivers defends his seeing Sassoon three times a week because he "shan't be able to persuade him to go back in less [time] than that."

Analysis

Billy's father, Mr. Prior, is an exemplar of the British idea of manliness. Mr. Prior seems not to like his son, nor is he proud of him. Probably like many Britons of the time, he thinks being in a mental hospital is shameful. Billy Prior mentions his father would have preferred it if he had been shot ("had a bullet up the arse"). Mr. Prior is also keenly aware of social class. He feels Billy's mother encouraged Billy to have ambitions above his working-class roots. This both angers Mr. Prior and makes him somewhat jealous of his son. Mr. Prior has bullied his son and believes men should be tough or else "there's plenty [of people] to walk over you." Mrs. Prior admits Mr. Prior never understood Billy, who was different from his father and did not fit the stereotype of what a working-class man should be. Later Billy says his father beat his mother, which was likely viewed as acceptable—or at least tolerated—manly behavior.

In a significant theme in the book, manliness blends with homosexuality in the case of Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon hints he is gay by referencing his acquaintance with openly gay men (Edward Carpenter, Robert Ross). However, Sassoon does not come out to Rivers, because at the time homosexuality was a crime punishable by imprisonment. The discussion of Carpenter's book The Intermediate Sex reintroduces the concept of emasculation. Rivers says, "In the end nobody wants to be neuter." Rivers wants men to be men, whether gay or straight; he objects to the emotional repression imposed on men by British society.

Manliness coincides with class consciousness and snobbery, both rampant in British society at the time. Mr. Prior says Billy "should've stuck with his own" and limited himself to acceptable working-class ambitions. He is not proud his son became an officer; this elevates Billy above his class. At the beginning of Chapter 6, even Rivers reveals his class bias, noting Billy has "a Northern accent, not ungrammatical," as if anyone from the north of England is expected to be uneducated, rather illiterate, and stupid. It's possible the often-contentious conversations between Rivers and Billy Prior are due partly to their class differences. For example, when Rivers asks Prior how he fit in with other officers at the front, Prior asks, "You mean, did I encounter any snobbery?" "Yes," Rivers replies. "Not more than I have here," Prior says. Clearly in this scene both Prior and Rivers are acknowledging snobbery and class differences.

Class is dealt with far more casually when Rivers and Sassoon speak together. They are kindred spirits in their privileged upbringing. Rivers offers to help Sassoon get into the posh Conservative Club for rich Tories—political right wingers. Sassoon thanks Rivers and then offhandedly says he's sending for his golf clubs so he can play in his spare time. Rivers thinks it's a grand idea. Both social clubs and golf clubs are the province and privilege of the upper classes at that time, war or no war, and are things both Rivers and Sassoon take for granted.

The rich and powerful men who support the inhumane war are also from the upper class. In talking about class bias in the military, Prior says, "For the first time I realized that somewhere at the back of their ... tiny, tiny minds they really do believe the whole thing's going to end in one big glorious cavalry charge." Prior is talking about the rich proponents of war who are so out of touch they nurture absurd, unrealistic, and romantic notions about the conflict. Yet anger about the war and the warmongers also may be a connecting tissue between men of different classes. Sassoon, too, is furious at the rich warmongers who perpetuate the slaughter. Even though he is of the upper classes, Sassoon is outraged when he reads about a 17-year-old boy killed in action: "He wasn't old enough to enlist. And nobody gives a damn [that he's been killed]."

Outrage at the inhumane war intersects with the duty to fight it. Prior is ruefully sarcastic when he puts on a private-school upper-class accent to tell Rivers, "The pride of the British Army requires that absolute dominance must be maintained in No Man's Land at all times." It's a farcical—if lethal—delusion. Prior describes the days he spent packed into a flooded dugout under constant bombardment by the enemy. He did his duty to fulfill absurd and inhumane commands from the "warmongers" who have no idea of the suffering they are causing the men.

Rivers, too, is challenged by his sense of duty, and perhaps attraction. At the after-dinner staff meeting to review cases, a colleague questions Rivers about his intense attention to Sassoon. Rivers defends his three-times-a-week meetings with Sassoon, saying this is the only way to "persuade [Sassoon] to go back" to fight. Yet the reader knows Rivers is conflicted about doing his duty in this arena. Like Sassoon, he feels the war does not justify the massive death and suffering it causes. His defense before his colleagues is just one side of the issue of duty Rivers struggles with.

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