Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Nadia w
Nadia W – EFL – Grade 11 “No other play is quite so simple, yet quite so complex.” To what extent do you agree with this idea in reference to R.C. Sherriff’s “Journey’s End”. In a lot of cases, things may not be what they seem. It takes more than just a single lookto see something for what it really is instead of what it appears to look like on the outside. Tome this idea applies to R.C Sherriff’s “Journey’s End”, a play that tells the story of Stanhope, ayoung commanding officer, and his infantry company officers during the First World War. Icompletely agree with the statement “No other play is quite so simple, yet quite so complex [asR.C Sherriff’s “Journey’s End]” because “Journey’s End” isn’t just a story that revolves around anevent that took place in the First World War, it is also enriched with a great plot, complexcharacters as well as Sherriff’s clever use of symbolism. One reason this play is simple and yet complex is the plot and writing itself. This is astory with layers. It is an easy story for us to understand, but there’s actually more to the storyif we try to read between the lines. In the first act of the play, we are introduced to Osborne,Raleigh and Stanhope, who comes into the scene demanding for a bottle of whisky. We quicklylearn that Stanhope wasn’t always like this and we see a more human Stanhope when he letshis wall down briefly at times such as the time he told Hibbert, his officer who was faking anillness in order to leave, that he sometimes wished he could just “pretend he was paralysed[…] and just lie in [his bed] until he died – or was dragged away”. We see the fear he had keptquiet for so long. In act three, when Osborne and Raleigh were chosen to conduct a raid of theGerman’s trenches and Osborne ended up dying, it pushed Stanhope to the edge of a breakdown which Sherriff hinted at us with the stage direction, “[Stanhope] stands with his facetowards the wall, his shoulders heaving as he fights for breath” giving us an image of a manwho’s had so much burden on his shoulders for so long that it is hard for him to live anymore(“breath” being a fundamental part of life) – this connects back to the topic ‘simple yetcomplex’ because with just one simple stage direction, Sherriff was able to get us tounderstand the real complexity Stanhope is going through. Sherriff is subtle in his plot buildup. We may not realize how a lot of the interactions between the characters were actuallyforeshadowing the climax and ultimately the ending. One instance of the charactersforeshadowing the future is how prior to the attack Osborne was very occupied with time, itsuggests that he knows he’s got very little time left and it worries him because he wonderswhat would happen after he died, when from an existentialism point of view, nothing would.This links back to the topic ‘simple yet complex’ because even though just by reading it once
Nadia W – EFL – Grade 11you would understand what’s happened, but this is only the surface – if you try to understandand see the subtext, you’d realise there’s more substance in that small scene. I think, eventhough there is a very short time span from the beginning to the end of the play, Sherriff wasable to give us enough of a glimpse into the characters’ personalities and how the war hasaffected them so that we are able to form our own opinions and ideas about the characters. Although the words that the characters say are simple and easy to understand, Sherriffshows us the complexity of what’s really going on inside their heads through stage directionsand body gestures. In the play the characters have to face their inner turmoil as much as theexternal disturbances affecting them. It is necessary for us to analyze the situation instead ofjust taking what the characters tell us through dialogue. Take Sherriff’s main character, DennisStanhope. For a man at the age of 21, Stanhope has achieved a lot and in turn faced a lot duringthe three years he served the army. This experience ultimately changed him into the idealcompany leader – stoical and unmoving. Early on in the play we were told that he had areputation for drinking. However, Osborne also referred to him as “the best companycommander [they’ve] got”. In the first act of the play we were already given a paradox bySherriff, we were introduced to a character who was a great leader and yet he was also a drunk.Further on in the play, we find out that drinking was just a way Stanhope’s character copedwith the war. According to him, if he were ever to go “into the front line without being dopedwith whiskey, [he’d] go mad with fright” and then told Raleigh in a confrontation that he drankafter Osborne’s death to forget about it because there was “[a] limit to what a man can bear”.We can see that Stanhope was using vices to hide his true emotions. He wasn’t just the man wewere introduced to. There was something more to him and yet there was something less of himbecause we find out that he had his motives and reasons why he did the things he did, but thesereasons were reasons that led us to believe that deep down he was truly a broken man. Thiswas hinted at by the image of a liquor bottle Stanhope kept drinking. A bottle is empty from theneck up and this is what Stanhope wished to achieve, an empty vessel from the neck up.Sherriff’s other characters also aren’t what they appear to look like on the outside. I thinkStanhope’s a very rich character, and so are Sherriff’s other characters such as Trotter, whosurprised me at the end with his cool and wisdom that could fill in Osborne’s role in Stanhope’scompany. Just like we have to keep in mind in our daily life, this play reminds us that mostpeople are more than their initial impression.
Nadia W – EFL – Grade 11 Symbolism plays a huge part in this play where the most ordinary and simple objects ordialogue could represent more complex ideas. Osborne’s watch is an important objectthroughout this play. It is one of the overall symbols in the play signifying time. For us, time isprecious but this is even truer for these soldiers because they live every moment in the warwondering if it would be their last. We might not be aware of how often we are actuallyreminded of time in the play, because the mention of time may not seem so significant to us.The setting of the play itself could represent another image. This play is set in a dugout in theBritish trenches and we are not shown scenes happening outside of this small square room. Weare not shown actions of war in this play instead we are shown the psychology of war. Thismakes me imagine being trapped in your own mind but having no control over it. Objects andsetting aren’t the only things that are symbolic, the characters’ dialogue hold their own subtextat times. In one scene Trotter talks of one of his hollyhocks, a type of flower, which grew tallerthan the rest of his hollyhocks and needed no stick to keep it straight, this reminds us ofStanhope, their company leader – the young man who has survived the war longer than any ofthem. These two dialogue are ‘simple yet complex’ because the simple dialogue actually heldmore complex ideas but the symbolisms played out here are so subtle that one would need tobe looking out for symbolisms to realize it. Whether the characters themselves intend for theirwords to be symbolic is hard to tell but I think Sherriff has succeeded in getting us to think backon what we’ve just read. “Journey’s End” is an excellent example of something that is “simple yet complex”. It isa play that excels in its simplicity by being more than just what it looks like on the surface. Inless than a 100 pages “Journey’s End” was able to get me to care about the characters and getmy brain thinking. Just like the setting of the play is below ground, we need to dig under thefirst layer of this play to get to the good part. From this play, I learnt of the need to keep anopen mind so that we don’t quickly judge things because things are rarely what they appear tobe on the outside.