Literature Study GuidesRegenerationPart 2 Chapters 12 13 Summary

Regeneration | Study Guide

Pat Barker

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Regeneration | Part 2, Chapters 12–13 | Summary



Chapter 12

Prior visits Sarah and explains to her why he missed their last date. It's the end of August and still very hot and humid. They take a train out of Edinburgh to the seaside. Prior is annoyed it's so crowded there. He resents the fun other people are having; they seem oblivious to the war and the soldiers fighting it. Prior even begins to hate Sarah because she's a civilian. The pair wade in the surf, but Prior notices a storm is coming. People are running off the beach to seek shelter, but Prior asks Sarah to stay. They shelter among some bushes on the edge of the beach. As they huddle together, Prior's hostility wanes, and he begins to feel affection for her. He longs to have sex with Sarah. Prior asks her if she wants to, and Sarah says yes.

After making love, Prior and Sarah rest in contented silence. After a while they brush twigs and sand from their clothes and walk along the coast They go to a pub for a hot drink and some food. Prior is reminded of a soldier who wrote to his wife every week. Prior censored all of his men's letters, which makes Sarah uncomfortable. Prior tells her no one read his letters because he was an officer. Even his CO (commanding officer) did not censor his letters. As they talk Prior begins to distance himself from her, denying to himself that anything meaningful had happened between them.

Chapter 13

Burns is waiting to come before the Board for evaluation. Rivers has told him he'll recommend Burns be unconditionally discharged from the military. Members of the Board ask Burns a few questions, especially about his vomiting. While Burns is questioned, Rivers gets up to free a bee trapped behind a window.

Prior is ill with asthma again. He says it is from all the cigarette smoke on the crowded train during the return trip with Sarah. It seems the smoke caused Prior to pass out. Rivers is sending him to sick bay, which he'll have to share with Willard. Prior makes some sarcastic remarks about Willard's psychosomatic inability to walk. Rivers tells Prior he's having a specialist come to examine him for his asthma. Rivers is worried because this is the second time in six weeks Prior has had a serious asthma attack. Prior doesn't want Rivers to recommend "permanent home service." He wants to go back to the front. He says anyone who didn't fight in France will not "count for anything" once the war is over. Rivers asks Prior how he will withstand mustard gas at the front if he passes out from cigarette smoke. Prior says no one at the hospital wants to hear about the realities of war and death.

Prior tells Rivers eventually he would like to go into politics, but he sneeringly adds he doesn't have the high-class education most politicians have. Prior is surprised to learn Rivers didn't go to a fancy college either.

Later Rivers is in his room shaving when a VAD nurse summons him to see Anderson. Rivers finds Anderson huddled in a corner of his room, his teeth chattering. It seems Anderson started screaming when his roommate, Featherstone, nicked himself while shaving. The sight of blood set Anderson off. Rivers sends Featherstone away and cleans the blood from the washbasin. Anderson begins to relax. When Rivers questions him, Anderson admits his horror of blood is as bad as it's ever been. Anderson is tired of thinking about what he can do to earn a living if he can no longer be a doctor.

Rivers goes to see Willard. As Rivers massages Willard's legs, Willard complains he can't stand being in sick bay with Prior, who still wakes up in the middle of the night screaming because of his nightmares. Willard also intimates that Prior is gay, although Rivers says that's not true. When he leaves Willard, Rivers visits Featherstone, who also demands a room change. Like Prior, Anderson wakes up screaming from terrible nightmares, and he vomits frequently. Featherstone's nerves are shot from lack of sleep. River says he'll see if there's a room available after the September Boards.

Rivers continues his rounds, talking to patients. Fothersgill, Sassoon's roommate, is a religious fanatic who talks as if he's from the Middle Ages. Fothersgill, at 43 years old, feels he's too old to serve, a sentiment Rivers understands.

Rivers next attends a meeting of the Hospital Management Committee, which goes off the rails when a patient representative is overcome by his paranoia about the patients being deprived of food. After the meeting Rivers eats lunch and then goes to see Bryce to discuss Broadbent, a patient who got leave from the hospital to go to his mother's funeral. Broadbent's dissembling became apparent when his mother visited him in the hospital. Broadbent now faces a court-martial. Rivers sees patients for the rest of the afternoon. He's somewhat heartened that several of them appear to be improving.

Rivers is so tired he goes to bed soon after dinner. He's awakened at two o'clock in the morning by chest pains. It seems to be a panic attack brought on by stress, but the symptoms last until dawn. Bryce comes to examine Rivers in the morning, and he strongly recommends Rivers take a vacation. Bryce insists Rivers take three weeks of rest leave.

Sassoon visits Owen in his room, and Owen gives Sassoon a new poem. They discuss rewording some lines in the poem to improve its sound and meaning. Sassoon helps Owen pencil in the changes. Suddenly Sassoon freezes and asks Owen if he hears a tapping noise. Owen does not, and Sassoon wonders what it can be. Owen says that maybe it's the wind, but Sassoon does not think so. Sassoon returns to his room and reads. When Fothersgill enters, Sassoon rolls over in bed and pretends to be asleep. Again Sassoon hears a tapping sound, which reminds him of his last weeks in France. His soldiers had been extremely weak and could barely walk. Sassoon remembers how poorly trained by the military many of the men had been. He wonders now how many are still alive.

Eventually Sassoon falls asleep but wakes suddenly and sees one of his soldiers, Orme, standing by the door. He gazes at Orme standing there but then remembers Orme is dead. Sassoon turns his head to look out the window, and when he turns back, Orme has disappeared. Fothersgill is awake, but, when asked, he denies anyone has been in the room. Sassoon realizes he'd better talk to Rivers about this hallucination, which was so unlike his former visions of gory amputees and the war-wounded. Sassoon is convinced this vision was not a nightmare, but he associates it with the tapping; was it Orme tapping? Sassoon goes downstairs to talk to Rivers, but Rivers has already left for vacation. Sassoon's wan image in a mirror reminds him of the day his father left home when Sassoon was five years old. Sassoon realizes he now views Rivers as a father figure.


At times Prior intensely resents civilians who are enjoying themselves and who know nothing about the sacrifices British soldiers are making in their name. Prior nurtures a deep hostility toward civilians who seem oblivious to the inhumane war and the trauma suffered by those soldiers who are sacrificed to it. At one point, he even hates Sarah for the same reason.

Prior mocks the British class system when he describes to Sarah why officers' mail is not read and censored. "They rely on [the officers'] sense of honor. It would be thought frightfully bad form" if that happened, he says in a mock upper-class voice. Instead of laughing at his mockery, Sarah responds angrily, saying, "You lot make me sick ... I suppose no one else's got a sense of honor?" She is defending the honor of the working-class soldiers who are in a sense humiliated and distrusted by the officers who lead them—and who read their mail.

Later, while Burns is facing the Board, Anderson and Sassoon are seen rambling off to the golf course, a subtle dig at their pursuit of upper-class pastimes while lower-class men are having their fate decided. Prior sarcastically confronts Rivers's own class snobbery when he throws back at Rivers his own words about "the greater mental complexity of officers." Prior is mocking Willard, an officer, when he asks Rivers how long it will take to convince "that particular specimen of complexity" that "it hasn't got a broken spine." Prior never lets references to class go by without a biting, sarcastic retort.

Prior's ambition to pursue a political career also brings up issues of class and snobbery. Prior doubts he has a future in politics because he lacks a degree from a top-tier university. Rivers disabuses Prior of this notion. Prior is surprised to learn Rivers did not attend one of these top-tier universities. Rivers tells Prior the war, which increases "contact with the working classes," will make things "freer." In other words, Rivers thinks the comradeship among all soldiers fighting the war will reduce class prejudice and snobbery once the war is over.

Prior is keen to return to the front despite his asthma. He likely wants to go back out of a sense of caring for his men and a willingness to sacrifice himself for them. Prior also wants to return because, he says, "Yesterday, at the seaside, I felt as if I came from another planet." Prior cannot fit into the world of civilians. He is most himself with his comrades in arms. Prior explains his alienation with a fierce critique of how civilians sugar-coat the horrors of the war to make it more palatable for themselves.

Another reason Prior wants to go back is that he does not want to be a man who "counts for nothing" because he didn't spend time fighting in France. His—and others'—manliness is judged by how much time he spent fighting in the war. If Prior is given "permanent home service," his masculinity would be compromised.

Sassoon expresses his innate caring for his men in his friendship with Owen. Sassoon is kind and generous in helping Owen with his poetry. Yet Sassoon also finds that in some way he's haunted by the soldiers he'd cared for. Sassoon has an auditory hallucination of a tapping sound. He then has a visual hallucination of Orme, a dead soldier he had led. This vision seems to him to be a totally different type of traumatic experience than he'd ever had before. Sassoon cannot figure out why the vision of Orme appeared to him the way it did. He looks for Rivers to get his insight, but Rivers is already gone. Sassoon comes to understand in his current circumstances that the caring and compassionate Rivers is a father figure for him.

Rivers's patients represent the wide variety of traumas resulting from the war. Anderson has a mental disability. Willard's trauma is revealed in psychosomatic paralysis. War-related nightmares and other symptoms and behaviors make it difficult for soldiers with different types of trauma to room together—a situation Rivers cannot correct.

In the story of Prior and Sarah, Prior is astonished by the yellowness of Sarah's skin, but it does not make him think her any less attractive. Her unnatural yellowness represents Sarah's hard work at the munitions factory, another indication of the effects on everyday life, extending to women as well. Later the approaching storm makes the air "yellow ... [and] ... sulphurous," an image possibly referring to the war itself; the TNT used in the war turns everything yellow.

Rivers exhibits his kind and caring nature when he gets up at the Board meeting to free a trapped bee. The incident reveals Rivers's compassion—his recognition of suffering—for all beings, as well as his natural impulse to do what he can to relieve suffering. Yet his tireless care is wearing him out. Overwork and stress take a toll on Rivers in various ways, evidenced by his purported heart condition and his stammer.

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