Regeneration Essay Questions

  1. 1

    What is the significance of the novel’s title?

    Regeneration refers to the experiments during which Dr. Rivers charted the regrowth of Henry Head’s severed nerve. This exercises, which caused Head extreme pain but ultimately resulted in recovery, mirror the course of Dr. Rivers’s psychological treatments. Though his patients feel a great deal of anguish while re-living their most traumatic memories, this practice ultimately allows these men to ‘regenerate,' or heal. As author Pat Barker has explained, recovery is an essential recurring theme throughout all of her novels.

  2. 2

    Can Regeneration be considered an anti-war novel?

    Though Pat Barker refrains from direct anti-war exposition in Regeneration, Sassoon and Dr. Rivers, the novel’s most sympathetic characters, condemn the war by the story's completion. Moreover, Barker unapologetically describes the devastating effects of war, painting gruesome scenes of detached eyes and bloated corpses, as well as detailing the shattered mental state of the officers at Craiglockhart. She does not attempt to counterbalance these negative images with scenes of glory and action, but rather, Barker is consistent in her depiction of combat as bloody, meaningless, and even absurd. As a result of this dynamic, Regeneration's overall message is anti-war. 

  3. 3

    Describe the similarities between Dr. Rivers and Dr. Yealland.

    As Dr. Rivers is horrified to note, he and Dr. Yealland both push shattered men into recovery so that they can return to face injury and death. Both are tasked with changing patients, often against their will. Yet Dr. Yealland ultimately serves as a foil for the kindly Dr. Rivers; Yealland's cruelty and apathy helps to highlight the psychologist’s compassion and commitment to his patients. The key difference between the two doctors is not their function in the military system, but rather, their ability to empathize with those they treat.

  4. 4

    Explain the role of irony in the novel.

    Irony runs throughout the narrative of Regeneration, often for the purpose of exposing the contradictory nature of war. Dr. Rivers’s position as a military psychologist is inherently ironic, which helps to highlight the hypocrisy of the pro-war establishment: it rewards recovered soldiers by sending them to face death once more. Similarly, Sassoon's ironic belief that combat is both awful and honorable draws attention on the absurdity of glorifying battle. Finally, the irony in Dr. Yealland’s desire to hear Callan speak but his refusal to listen to his words reveals the controlling, uncaring, and authoritarian nature behind the system that perpetuates the war.

  5. 5

    Compare and contrast the competing views of duty that Sassoon and Graves hold.

    For Graves, a man’s ultimate loyalty resides with his commitments. He believes that because Sassoon has committed to serve in the British military, it is his duty is to fulfill that promise, no matter how his opinions about the war itself have changed. On the other hand, Sassoon is far more concerned his responsibility to the men who are dying in France. He feels that it is his duty to attempt to stop the slaughter, regardless of the effects this will have on his reputation. Once Sassoon realizes that his efforts to stop the war have failed, he is bound by his loyalty to his men and returns to the front.

  6. 6

    How do the past and present interact in Regeneration?

    Throughout Regeneration, the past is constantly intruding on the present. Officers are repeatedly disturbed by unwanted and violent visions from the battlefield; memories of past events haunt them and shape their present-day situations. Owen articulates the way these ghosts create a sense of timelessness, explaining that the war feels like an ever-present state: a continuation of past wars exists in the present day conflict and will extend into the future.

  7. 7

    According to Dr. Rivers, what feature of the war is central in explaining the characters’ shell-shock?

    Dr. Rivers argues that the helplessness engendered by trench warfare is the key to explaining the high rate of shell-shock. Soldiers immobilized by the trenches are left defenseless, cowering beneath the constant shelling and bombardment. This creates a tremendous amount of stress that eventually erodes their defenses. The high rate of shell-shock in those manning observation balloons, which can neither be defended or used for attack, confirms Dr. Rivers’s hypothesis that helplessness is the central factor in the incidence of shell-shock.

  8. 8

    Who is the man in the dentist’s chair in Dr. Rivers’s dream? Why?

    Dr. Rivers realizes that Sassoon is the patient in his dream. In his nightmare, the psychologist imagines that he is brutally shoving a horse’s bit into a man’s mouth, signifying his control over him. This is because Dr. Rivers feels deeply guilty about the role he has played in ensuring Sassoon's return to the front, where he is likely to die. The psychologist fears he has exercised undue control over the lieutenant, and his dream is a result of that fear. 

  9. 9

    What role does emasculation play in the novel?

    Emasculation is a continuous theme throughout Regeneration: men are emasculated both by Dr. Rivers’s psycho-analysis and by the passive nature of trench warfare. In early 20th century British society, stoicism was celebrated as a masculine trait, meaning that sharing emotions was popularly viewed as a feminine act. Dr. Rivers’s methods force his patients to speak about their feelings, thus putting them in a role commonly reserved for women. Similarly, being confined and helpless in the trenches turns active men into more passive figures, just like women living in a patriarchal society. This cycle of emasculation profoundly embarrasses several of the men at Craiglockhart.

  10. 10

    How does Dr. Rivers’s character change throughout Regeneration?

    At beginning of Regeneration, Dr. Rivers justifies Britain's role in the war by arguing that the German threat must be neutralized; he sees the resulting damage as an unfortunate but necessary side effect. By the novel’s end, the psychologist concludes that there is no political motivation that could justify the anguish and pain he has witnessed, and thus, he realigns his views with Sassoon's. At the end of Regeneration, Dr. Rivers notes the irony that the man he was tasked with changing, Sassoon, profoundly changed him instead.