Regeneration Imagery

Burns and the Tree

Burns’s encounter with a tree hung with animal carcasses is one of the most powerful scenes in the book. Barker uses vivid imagery to evoke a dream-like tone; her language enhances the surreal nature of the moment, describing dead animals hanging from boughs as looking  “like fruit” (38). As Burns attempts to flee, the vegetation “turns against him,” “tripping” and “tearing” at him like a scene from a nightmare (38). When Burns returns to face the tree, he arranges the dead animals in a circle and lies down in the center. Barker describes his pale body as “white as a root,” reflecting Burns’s desire to join the animals in the earth (39). 

Timeless War

Temporal confusion plays a large role in Regeneration: past memories are continuously intruding on the present. Owen expands on this theme by explaining the timelessness of war. He imagines that the skulls embedded in the trench walls are from hundreds of years ago, sensing that all wars have been “distilled” into this current conflict (83). Barker’s images—of an ancient skulls and ghostly apparitions—highlight the other-worldly nature of Owen’s vision. Sassoon adds to this temporal confusion, admitting that he sometimes sees himself in the future looking back on the ghosts of the present. 

No Man's Land

Dr. Rivers walks down a deserted corridor in a busy hospital and compares it to his patients’ descriptions of No Man’s Land, “a landscape apparently devoid of life that actually contain[s] millions of men” (223).  No Man’s Land occupies his patients' memories as a particularly violent and sinister space. By invoking it, Barker effectively heightens the reader’s anxiety, marking the hospital with a sense of foreboding. Indeed, the corridor leads Rivers first to a badly deformed soldier and then to Dr. Yealland, who proceeds to torture a patient with electroshock therapy.

Separation between Soldier and Civilian

Barker uses imagery to invoke the separation that soldiers like Sassoon and Prior feel when immersed in a civilian environment after returning from battle. When Sassoon goes to the Convservative Club, he describes the other men there as "Edinburgh worthies" with "white beards and wing collars, whose gold watch-chains and fobs nestled on their swelling abcomens" (113). He imagines that these old men have been cut out portraits and are staring at him, automatically approving of his presence because he is in uniform. This description emphasizes the separation that Sassoon feels amongst men who support the war but do not understand what it means to fight on the front lines. Meanwhile, when Prior and Sarah walk on the seaside together, Prior imagines himself as a "ghost" amongst people "swirling their tongues round ice-cream cones, biting into candy-floss, licking rock, sucking fingers, determined to squeeze the last ounce of pleasure from the day" (127). Seeing people immersed in such mundane activities makes Prior feel both weary and alienated.