Literature Study GuidesRegenerationPart 2 Chapters 10 11 Summary

Regeneration | Study Guide

Pat Barker

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Regeneration | Part 2, Chapters 10–11 | Summary



Chapter 10

Sarah and her friends are on their tea break at work. They discuss Sarah's relationship with Prior. Sarah is angry because Prior didn't show up for their scheduled date the previous Sunday; she doesn't know Prior was grounded for coming in late the last time he'd been with Sarah. She claims she's no longer interested in him, but she wonders why he never appeared that day. The topic turns to Lizzie's husband. Lizzie is upset because he will be returning home from the front soon. Lizzie is enjoying her peaceful life without her frequently drunk husband in the house. She says, "I don't want him back ... As far as I'm concerned the Kaiser can keep him." The women encourage Lizzie to get false teeth so she can "have a bloody good time" on her own. Sarah and Betty recall that Lizzie's husband used to beat her.

Rivers is with Willard in the hospital. Willard is lying on his stomach in bed. His back is scarred from the pieces of an exploded tombstone embedded in his flesh. Rivers says the wounds are healing nicely, but he insists once again that Willard's injury has not affected his spine—so Willard should be able to walk. Willard, "his jaw stubbornly set" refuses to believe this. Rivers assures Willard he's not malingering, but he says Willard knows why he can't walk. Willard insists he's not a coward who's pretending he's paralyzed to avoid combat. Rivers agrees. Rivers suggests that Willard get dressed for his wife's visit later that afternoon.

Sassoon has arrived at the Conservative Club where he's to meet Rivers for lunch. He feels the ambivalence with which the stodgy old men there view him in his uniform but with his hospital badge. As he sits and waits, Sassoon overhears two old men talking about the war, and he feels "a well-practiced hatred begin to flow" in him. Sassoon thinks about Gordon, a friend and hunting companion, whose name was listed on the day's roster of those recently killed in the war. Sassoon feels "sickened by himself" because "he'd let himself be pacified" instead of returning to France to support the troops fighting and dying there. Sassoon gets up and looks at the portraits of the rich and powerful men lining the club's walls. He misses hunting, and he misses Gordon. He remembers how he "cracked wide open" after being wounded in France.

Rivers arrives at the club, and the men order lunch. Rivers contemplates Sassoon and feels uneasy about what he might have to recommend to the Board regarding Sassoon's fate. Then Rivers recalls Dr. Yealland, who firmly believed men who broke down were "degenerates" who would break down no matter what their circumstances. Yet Rivers knows that if the innate-weakness theory is rejected, "inevitably the war became the issue." Rivers's form of therapy tests the validity of his theory. Treating Sassoon was difficult for Rivers because it made Rivers think about the prosecution of and justification for the war—notions he'd been able to avoid before. Rivers notes how much Sassoon really cared for the men he led in the war.

Sassoon tells Rivers a supposedly amusing story about how the soldiers were taught to use a bayonet. Then Rivers hints that Sassoon might find the waiter attractive. They talk about the death of Gordon, and then Sassoon recounts how a soldier he knows who was shot in the throat has suffered a "deteriorating mental state" because he thinks he didn't fight well enough in the war. Rivers offers no comment.

Rivers leaves the club, while Sassoon remains to converse with Ralph Sampson (1866–1939), the Astronomer Royal of Scotland. Rivers is rather awed by the great scientist, but Sassoon chats with him easily. Rivers thinks about how many loved ones and friends Sassoon—and those of his generation—have lost in the war. He thinks this is why Sassoon is always looking back to a time when all those now dead were alive and he was not so lonely. It may also be why young men of his generation are unable "to envisage any kind of future." Yet Rivers wonders how he will get Sassoon to give in, rescind his Declaration, and return to the front. Rivers does not want to force Sassoon to return; he wants to convince Sassoon that going back is "the right thing."

Rivers returns and sees Willard and his wife. Willard's wife is polite, but Willard is in a fury at being so impotent in his wheelchair. When Rivers helps Mrs. Willard push the wheelchair up a slope, Willard is enraged and humiliated. Rivers invites Mrs. Willard to his office for a cup of tea.

Chapter 11

Owen enters Sassoon's room to see the latter reading a letter from H.G. Wells, who might come to visit him. Sassoon gives Owen a poem for the Hydra, the hospital publication. Sassoon tells Owen how Rivers had talked about the future at lunch in order to get Sassoon to return to combat. When Sassoon asks Owen what he plans to do after the war, Owen says "keep pigs." Sassoon is astonished, and Owen knows he's being mocked for his low ambition and for being of a lower class than Sassoon.

Owen shows Sassoon some of his poems, one of which is based on a Greek myth about "re-establishing the link between oneself and the earth" as a healthful way of reconnecting with your true self. The two poets have a fascinating discussion about how to reword and rephrase poems to make them more forceful and meaningful. They also talk about how a poet finds his own original voice in his writing. Sassoon likes Owen's poem "Song of Songs" so much that he threatens to withhold his own poem from publication unless Owen agrees to publish this poem in the Hydra. Owen is reluctant but finally agrees to publish it anonymously. Sassoon asks Owen to continue working on his poem "The Dead-Beat," and he asks how long Owen has been working on it. Owen says he spends 15 minutes a day writing poems. Sassoon is flabbergasted. Sassoon advises Owen to work on his poems more assiduously. Yet Owen's revelation shows he's a poetic genius. Sassoon and Owen agree to meet each week to discuss their poetry.


Women's lives and their role in the war effort are explored through Sarah Lumb and her friends, the "munitionettes" after Sarah has gone out with Prior. These women are shown to be dedicated, smart, and wise to their self-interest. They've also gained enough independence to be less reliant on men. Lizzie says about her husband being gone to the war, "[It's] the only bit of peace I've ever had ... I don't want him back." Lizzie thinks of reinventing her life; she'll buy false teeth and then "have a bloody good time." The women work hard but take pride in their work and independence. Their yellow-hued skin is a sign of independence and doing their patriotic duty for the war.

Willard's psychosomatic paralysis arises from issues of manliness. Willard insists he has a spinal injury that has made him unable to walk—even though there is no physical evidence his spine is damaged. Rivers understands Willard's need to survive by not returning to fight. But Willard is consumed by the idea that everyone considers him a coward—a man who pretends to be crippled to avoid doing his duty. A man who is seen as a coward is also seen as less than a man. Being in a wheelchair also imposes a kind of impotence on Willard, which further degrades his manliness. Willard says he knows what others think of him: "I can't walk because I don't want to go back," which is "tantamount to an admission of cowardice." Willard is in a torment of conflict between his will to live and his humiliating status as a coward in the eyes of others—or so he assumes.

Rivers thinks about manliness as well when he remembers Dr. Yealland's view of mental breakdown. Unlike Rivers, who sees mental breakdown as arising from the repression of emotional trauma, Yealland views men who break down as degenerates, as men with an "innate weakness," who fail at being manly enough to resist breaking down.

Sassoon is at the upper-class Conservative Club, but he bristles at the aristocratic "old men" who are there. Although Sassoon is of their class, the rich old men at the club still remind him of the "old men" who support the war. Sassoon feels "a well-practiced hatred" for the men at the club as well as for those aristocrats whose portraits adorn the walls. In a way Sassoon views the "old men" at the club as hypocrites: They glance at his uniform with approval—he's fighting their war—but they feel uneasy about the mental-hospital badge sewn on it. Sassoon may be justified in his hatred of these pampered rich men. They perpetuate the war and the sacrifice of young men like Sassoon, yet they disparage the effects their horrific war has on the men they have sacrificed.

The snobbery of the upper classes also comes into play when Sassoon mocks Owen's plans for raising pigs after the war. Owen is made to feel ashamed of his post-war ambition, and he blushes when he realizes Sassoon is mocking him—most likely because his plan reveals a lower status. Yet in a way, the reader may interpret Owen's plan as being more realistic and sensible than Sassoon's amorphous indecision about what he'll do with his future. The less posh classes are described as being far more practical and realistic than their "betters."

Sassoon contemplates what his future should be. He feels "sickened by himself" and the way his Declaration is protecting him from doing his duty and returning to the front to be with his men. Sassoon is conflicted: If he stands on principle against the inhumane and unjust war, he is "letting himself be pacified, sucked into the comforting routine of Craiglockhart." If he renounces his anti-war principles, he can then sacrifice his safety and do his duty by returning to the front. Sassoon would then be with the soldiers under his command he cared so much about. Rivers understands Sassoon's feelings. He thinks Sassoon's "love for his men cut through [his] self-absorption," but tormented him all the same.

Sassoon admires officers who care deeply for their men. Sassoon describes a soldier he knows, Julian Dadd, whose mental breakdown is getting worse because he feels guilty about abandoning his men and "not doing well enough" for them. Sassoon says Dadd was "one of his heroes" because he cared for his men so much. Dadd, like Sassoon, feels guilty for being in "the loony bin" instead of in the trenches caring for soldiers. Rivers recognizes how much Sassoon loves his men and how hard it is for him to remain at Craiglockhart when other soldiers are sacrificing their lives in his place.

Owen's poem about the myth of Antaeus deals with the concepts of healing and recovery. There is likely a deep truth in its moral: "the way back to health is to re-establish the link between oneself and the earth ... the 'earth' meaning society as well as nature." Owen believes soldiers have been "ungrounded by the war." By reconnecting with nature—or being grounded in, or connected to, their true inner emotions—those who have broken down can start to heal. This reconnection with the earth also reflects and supports Owen's future plans as a pig farmer. Sassoon, on the other hand, remains unanchored in relation to the future. Sassoon jokingly says being "stuck in a dugout" is not his idea of how to regain "contact with the earth."

The developing relationship between Sassoon and Owen is one of comradeship and mentorship. Sassoon helps Owen with his poetry in a way that might be akin to how he helped his men in combat. In both cases one man cares for another.

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