“Testament of Youth” by Vera Brittain 1933; How does the writer portray her feelings about war?

5 May 2016

The testament of youth was written 15 years after the First World War, therefore it is not perhaps as reliable because she’s had time to forget the memories and also be given different people’s views which would mean that she didn’t put something in or changed it because it didn’t fit with her new views.

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However it may be even more reliable because since the war ended more truths have come out, when the war first ended no one knew about it because no one would talk about it and therefore if Vera Brittain knew more about it, she would be more likely to be knowledgeable about what she was writing for example if she writes about people coming back mentally unstable then she would be able to put in her book that he was shell shocked, had she written it as soon as the war had ended then she would not have been able to say that.

Brittain was a VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) during the war so she has first-hand experience of the war, this meant that she could write about her own real experiences rather than someone else’s or make them up.

The autobiography is to entertain as well as inform therefore some parts may be a little bit exaggerated. In the testament of youth, Brittain talks about arriving in Etaples she recalls there being “A heavy shower” this pathetic fallacy suggests that Brittain was miserable about arriving at Etaples but it “ceased” by the time she gets there suggesting that her worries and misery disappear.

It could also suggest that it cleanses her so that she can have a fresh start in Etaples because it washes out any worries she may have had. Brittain describes how she “squelched” through the mud; the use of this onomatopoeia helps us to use imagery to picture just how muddy and wet it was.

She also uses very negative words such as “littered” and “grimy” which suggests that she didn’t like it and didn’t want to be there. It also suggests that the place was dirty and not pleasant, which, perhaps, was not what she was used to.

She tells of how the soldiers were “dumped”, this verb suggests that they were not respected and were just objects in the whole scheme of things; the soldiers were all the same. It also suggests that Brittain is upset about it as she may think that they should be treated better. Brittain’s sentence structure isn’t varied and is long. The sentences seem to drag on; this, therefore, suggests that she felt the war dragged on because the pauses were far away and short like the war.

The scene Brittain paints about what she sees is very clear, she tells of how there are “humped sandhills bristled with tufts of spiky grass” this imagery suggests that it is a comparison to the soldiers and how they, too, are hunched over so it looks like they have humps on their backs. The tufts of spiky grass could suggest that they relate to the way the shells land, a little bit all over the place but has a way of going where you least expect.

Brittain talks about the fear she has for the war, she tells of how she would imagine things that actually don’t happen such as hearing “the sound of distant guns” this suggests that the sound is so loud it rings in her ears making her think she’s hearing it when she actually isn’t. Or that the sound is just so recurrent that even when there are no guns, it sounds like there are.

She also thinks that she can feel earthquakes when in fact she is just feeling the vibrations of the guns and shells, she says how it feels like “the slight rustling that comes…/” “/…with imminent thunder” this suggests that she trembles when she hears it just like the thunder, implying that she is afraid of the thought of the guns like she’s afraid of the thought of thunder.

Brittain talks in the 1st person making it more realistic especially when talking about fear, it makes it seem much more real. She talks about how the war is like titanic, this is because titanic sunk in 1912 so would be still a very big part of their lives and fresh in their minds.

She says how the scene was “illimitable death” this suggests that she believed that she would be surrounded by war’s deaths forever. It also suggests that she feels that they are not winning therefore people won’t ever stop dying which is what she fears. She tells of how Etaples had become the “heart of the fiercest living” this suggests that she is proud of all the soldiers and what they were doing.

The use of the noun “heart” suggests that she feels love towards the men and also the men to one another. It also suggests that they have not lost all humanity because they can still beat the Germany. Brittain uses the poem “James Lee’s Wife” by Robert Browning.

By doing this she is able to reflect her feelings in a different way, it suggests that she could not find the right words to convey how she was feeling therefore implies that she perhaps needed another’s words to tell others how she truly feels, she believes that she cannot “draw one beauty into our hearts, and keep it changeless” this suggests that she cannot go back to how she thought the war was before she came here because it’s far worse than she expected.

Brittain tells of how there was always an “illusion of light” this suggests that there is an illusion of hope, the light at the end of the tunnel which isn’t there. It suggests that Brittain believes that the war will not end and will go on forever like an “infinity of darkness”. Overall Brittain is fearful of not just the war itself but also that it will never end. She talks about how she is scared and scarred from the war.

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