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Mental Cases. Wilfred Owen. Mental Cases. CHARACTER In Stanza 1 who is Owen describing? . The poem is narrated by someone who is observing returned soldiers who have been placed in a mental institution.

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mental cases

Mental Cases

Wilfred Owen

character in stanza 1 who is owen describing
CHARACTERIn Stanza 1 who is Owen describing?
  • The poem is narrated by someone who is observing returned soldiers who have been placed in a mental institution.
  • The subjects of the poem are objectified by the opening references to ‘these’ and ‘they’. Their humanity has been stripped from these unnamed patients and the abruptness of the opening rhetorical question challenges the speaker to think about what caused them to be in this condition.
  • Their nameless state is symbolic. It makes them representational of those whose mental capacity is shattered by their wartime experiences.
what do these men look like
What do these men look like?
  • He describes the men as “shadows”, rocking quietly in a darkened corner during twilight. Their tongues hang from their mouths while saliva dribbles down their faces. Their expression appears tormented and they have deep worry lines etched into their faces. This is a result of sleepless nights and the endless memories of war which haunt them.
what language techniques are used to create this image
What language techniques are used to create this image?
  • “Why sit they here in twilight? Wherefore rock they, purgatorial Shadows”
  • The narrator is asking (rhetorical question) why these once strong, proud men have been reduced to rocking in a corner like madmen. He compares them to shadows – grey, invisible and a poor shell of their former selves. Purgatory also implies that they are stuck in a living hell. Even though they are alive they are tormented by their memories. They have withdrawn into an inner hellish place which overwhelms all else. This image is emphasised through the symbolic use of “twilight”. This is a time of day which is the transition from day to night and reinforces the situation these men are in – caught between life and death / day and night.
  • The archaic language of ‘Wherefore’ lends Biblical weight to the moral implications of their condition. These ‘purgatorial shadows’ rock in a metaphorical hellish existence.
what language techniques are used to create this image1
What language techniques are used to create this image?

Simile / Word Inversion

“Drooping tongues from jaws

that slob their relish, Baring teeth that leer like skulls’ tongues wicked?

Value-laden diction and word inversion heightens the impact of the repellent image of bared teeth and aggressive manner,

The simile links the living with the dead, emphasising their separation from normalcy as well as hinting at how war has made them ‘wicked’.

Their mannerisms and tortured physical condition causes these men to appear almost as animals. ‘Drooping tongues’ and slavering jaws conveys their dehumanised appearance. War has stolen their humanity.

what language techniques are used to create this image2
What language techniques are used to create this image?

Metaphor / Personification

“What slow panic gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets? Ever from their hair and through their sweated palms misery swelters”

The “chasms” around the eyes of the soldiers are a result of endless sleepless nights and mental anguish. “Misery” has also been personified. The almost sweat out the pain they are consumed by.

comment on the use of personification in stanza 2 what image is created here
Comment on the use of personification in Stanza 2. What image is created here?

“Memory fingers in their hair of murders”

The soldiers are so distraught by the memories of people they have killed and of the deaths of their comrade's that they try to physically tear the memories from their head. Their memories are compared to fingers poking and prodding them but which they can’t remove.

what is meant by multitudinous murders comment on the repetition of murder
What is meant by “multitudinous murders”? Comment on the repetition of “murder”
  • The unknown ‘these’ have been identified as those whose minds have been ‘ravished’. The ravisher is death itself, personified and capitalised as the cause of what has happened to these men’s minds. Wars ‘Dead’ have attacked their psyches, making them another casualty of war. They have been robbed of innocent slumbers, now plagued by nightmarish recall.
  • Owen borrows a Shakespearean phrase (allusion) from Macbeth, to emphasise the mass death these men have been forced to witness. ‘Multitudinous murders’ is made more ominous by ‘death’ in war being equated with murders, repeated in lines 2 and 3. The accumulated effect of the harsh alliterative ‘m’ in the second and third lines makes the reader share the speaker’s shock at what is before him. This allows them to make the connection between the horrific slaughter ‘they once witnessed’ and what they have become.
rhyme inversion
Rhyme / Inversion
  • “Batter of guns and shatter of flying muscles”
  • Rhyming terms ‘Batter’ and shatter’ confront the reader as does the image of ‘flying muscles’ as men’s bodies are ripped apart. To emphasise the on-going hell these helpless men endure, word inversion and reference to the senses of sight and sound are used, ‘Always they must see these things and hear them’. The horrors they have witnessed have utterly debilitated them; their lifeline to normalcy has been completely severed. They are longer and will never be the men they once were.
  • ‘Rucked’ serves as an effective image for the convoluted and war-torn terrain, thick with the dead in which they lived and fought.
stanza 3 language techniques
STANZA 3: Language Techniques

In Stanza 3 the soldiers have lost visual contact with the outer world as they focus instead on an inner sight fractured by pain and death.

  • Eyeballs shrink tormented back into their brains
  • Sunlight seems a bloodsmear; night comes blood-black;
  • Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh
  • Their heads wear this hilarious, hideous, Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses
  • Thus their hands are plucking…picking…snatching…pawing
personification alliteration
Personification / Alliteration
  • “Still their eyeballs shrink tormented Back into their brains”
  • The men’s eyes rolling back in their heads further adding to the image of these men as inhuman and the conveys the mental anguish they cannot escape from. The harsh alliterative “b” also seems aggressive and reflects Owen’s anger at what these men have been reduced to. Word inversion is also used here placing emphasis on “tormented”.
  • Therefore still tormented their eyeballs shrink back…
symbolism simile
Symbolism & Simile
  • Sunlight seems a bloodsmear; night comes blood-black;
  • Dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh
  • Blood imagery is effectively developed through the compound words, ‘blood-smear’ and ‘blood-black’. The impact is increased further by the ‘b’ alliteration and the negative connotations of ‘smear’ and ‘black’.
  • Neither ‘Sunlight’ nor ‘night’ has any effecton the world these soldiers live. ‘Dawn’ heralds no rebirth, repair or redemption for them.
  • Dawn is usually symbolic of a new day, a fresh start.
  • They exist in a twilight world where each new day merely beckons more of the same, opening ‘like a wound that bleeds afresh’. Theirs is a mental wound that festers and weeps and never heals.
extended metaphor
Extended Metaphor

“Their heads wear this hilarious, hideous, Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses”

  • The extended metaphor of these patients as living corpses, begun in the opening stanza is concluded in the final stanza by their description as ‘set-smiling corpses’. The ‘falseness’ of their appearance emphasises that they have been dehumanised. War has taken away their humanity. They appear almost as animals or the living dead.
personal pronoun verbs
Personal Pronoun & Verbs
  • Thus their hands are plucking…picking…snatching…pawing
  • Their men’s frenzied actions, ‘plucking’, ‘picking’, ‘snatching’ and ‘pawing’ (verbs) are easily envisaged. It conveys the desperation of these men and also their mental incapacitation. They are scourged by ‘rope-knouts’ of society’s making that ‘dealt them war and madness’. The final four lines have a sermonistic tone as if we are being directly addressed to recognise our culpability in the fates of these men. We recognise our representative involvement through terms such as ‘brother’ and ‘us’.
emotive language
  • Purgatorial
  • Leer
  • Wicked
  • Pain
  • Slow panic
  • Misery
  • Hell, hellish
  • Ravished
  • Murders
  • Carnage
  • Squander
  • Tormented
  • Blood-black
  • Wound
  • Hideous
  • Corpse
  • Scourging, snatching, plucking, pawing
  • War
  • Madness
theme and purpose
Theme and Purpose
  • Written in 1918 – Owen captures the damage to men’s minds as a result of war. The damage was no more shameful than bodily wounds, however the after effects of war didn’t always find ready acceptance at that time.
  • Owen’s aim is to shock, to describe in stark detail the ghastly physical symptoms of mental torment. As in DULCE ET DECORUM EST, Owen shows men in their prime become senile wrecks. In this case however it is due to how they have been impacted mentally rather than as a result of physical injury.
  • Owen also comments on the culpability of the public for the fate of these men. War, which is madness itself, was waged with such men as its cannon fodder and for that we all stand indicted. There is a social responsibility for what has befallen ‘these hellish’, ‘these helpless’ and ‘these things’.
literature response
  • Plan and write a response to the following:
  • Describe an interesting idea in a text(s) you have studied. Explain how techniques have been used to help you understand this idea(s).