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Regeneration | Quotes


You can ... speak up for your principles ... but in the end you do the job.

Robert Graves, Part 1, Chapter 3

Speaking with Sassoon, Robert Graves says he believes people who sign up for military service must continue to serve regardless of their war experiences or their principles. Sassoon enlisted to fight for his country, but his war experience made him an anti-war spokesman. Graves says Sassoon can think what he wants about the war but must not act outright on his anti-war beliefs.


Nobody else in this stinking country seems to find it difficult [to be safe while others die]. I expect I'll just learn to live with it.

Siegfried Sassoon, Part 1, Chapter 4

Sassoon tells Dr. Rivers how he'll feel if he's discharged and sent home to England instead of returning to battle. He is bitter toward the British civilians who have avoided the war—those who are safe at home and give little thought to the horrors their countrymen experience on the front lines. Later Billy Prior will express similar sentiments.


In advising [patients] to remember traumatic events ... [Rivers] was, in effect, inflicting pain.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 5

Dr. Rivers is an essentially kind man who hates to cause others pain. In both his dreams and his waking life, he is plagued by the pain he causes his patients when he forces them to remember unbearably painful war experiences. Yet he does this to heal their trauma.


He's mentally and physically healthy. It's his duty to go back, and it's my duty to see he does.

Dr. Rivers, Part 1, Chapter 7

Rivers is explaining his role as a military doctor and Sassoon's role as a patient. Rivers's duty is to send soldiers back to battle after they have healed. Sassoon's duty is to return to the front when his doctor says he is ready for combat.


You can make me dredge up the horrors ... but you will never make me feel.

Billy Prior, Part 2, Chapter 8

Prior is closed off, self-protective, and adamantly opposed to sharing his war experiences with Rivers. Prior says even if he describes his trauma, he will never allow himself to feel the emotion that accompanies it. Prior shuts himself off from feeling to protect his sanity; he's also afraid of revisiting the intensity of his repressed emotions.


This most brutal of conflicts ... set up a relationship between officers and men that was domestic. Caring.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 9

Comradeship and caring among soldiers and officers is an important theme in the book. Dr. Rivers thinks about how living through the most brutal war atrocities strengthens the bonds among the fighting men.


The Great Adventure ... consisted of crouching in a dugout, waiting to be killed.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 9

These are Rivers's cynical thoughts on the idealized image of war. The British military attracts young men into the army by painting the war as a Great Adventure. Rivers notes that the reality is completely different. Soldiers spend most of their time miserably in foul, crowded trenches that often serve as deathtraps.


Yealland ... believed that men who broke down were degenerates.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 10

Rivers is considering the approach Yealland, a fellow psychiatrist, takes to emotionally damaged soldiers. Yealland believes these soldiers are "degenerates" who break down because they're weak. Rivers disagrees strongly. The two psychiatrists' differing views touch on the question of manliness: a "real" man is not supposed to be weak; a "real" man does not suffer breakdowns.


If the country demanded that price, then it should bloody well be prepared to look at the result.

Narrator, Part 3, Chapter 14

This is what Sarah Lumb thinks after she's seen the terribly disfigured amputee soldiers who are hidden away in a conservatory ward apart from the war hospital. Sarah believes the British public should be made to see what happens to the men they send to war. The men shouldn't be hidden away to protect people from the consequences of war.


Nothing can justify this ... Nothing, nothing, nothing.

Narrator, Part 3, Chapter 15

Dr. Rivers has this thought after he rescues his patient Burns from the moat where Burns waited to die. Because Burns is so broken, and his attempted suicide has so shaken Rivers, the psychiatrist expresses this unusually strong—for him—anti-war sentiment.


You agreed to serve, and ... you've got to be seen to keep your word.

Robert Graves, Part 4, Chapter 17

Here again Graves implores Sassoon to do his duty and return to the fighting. Graves appeals to Sassoon's upper-class obligations, telling him he must honor his obligation or others will "say you're not behaving like a gentleman." For upper-class Britons, not behaving like a gentleman is unthinkable, perhaps unforgiveable.


You must speak, but I shall not listen to anything you have to say.

Dr. Lewis Yealland, Part 4, Chapter 21

Yealland makes this remark to a mute soldier while using electricity to force him into talking. Yealland doesn't think of his patients as human beings who have feelings and ideas worth sharing. The soldier must speak to show he is "cured," but Yealland cares nothing for what he says. Yealland's words encapsulate the inhumanity and indifference of the military toward the anonymous cogs (soldiers) in the war machine.


A horse's bit ... An instrument of control ... he and Yealland were both ... controlling people.

Narrator, Part 4, Chapter 22

Rivers has a dream about trying to force a horse's bit into a soldier's mouth; he realizes that it symbolizes his job as a military psychiatrist, in which he wields total control over his patients. This realization helps Rivers awaken to his true purpose in the military; he begins to reject the role of inhuman controller.


In present circumstances recovery meant resumption of activities ... not merely self-destructive but ... suicidal.

Narrator, Part 4, Chapter 22

Here again Rivers is thinking about the true nature of his job as a military psychiatrist. In non-military psychiatry, patients are considered healed when they no longer engage in self-harming actions. In military psychiatry, Rivers reflects, patients are considered healed when they are ready to be sent back to the battlefield—where they may die. Rivers equates this type of "healing" with preparing a patient for suicide.


A society that devours its own young deserves no automatic or unquestioned allegiance.

Narrator, Part 4, Chapter 23

Dr. Rivers has decided the war cannot be justified; it does too much damage to those who fight it. Rivers feels he can no longer follow military orders without questioning their necessity and their effect on soldiers. His allegiance to the British military is no longer guaranteed.

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