The Return of the Soldier


Soldier's return

The title The Return of the Soldier enunciates a common trope amongst Great War literature: soldiers return from war and interact with everyday life, confronting trauma sustained through the stress of warfare. The Return of the Soldier is the first deliberate evocation of the returned soldier in literature.[5] West's treatment of the returning soldier in The Return of the Soldier is deliberately distanced from the war.[3] The trauma Chris suffers in The Return of the Soldier becomes an isolated piece of evidence of the war's effect on a society that appears to be otherwise functioning normally. This distance is very similar to the distance from war and its trauma in Virginia Woolf's Jacob's Room.[3]

The successful treatment of the returned soldier who is full of psychological trauma is a fundamental element of The Return of the Soldier. Unlike Virginia Woolf's Mrs Dalloway and Dorothy L. Sayers' The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, other postwar novels which emphasize the lingering effects of war after despite attempts at reintegration, The Return of the Soldier lends a certain optimism that the soldier can reintegrate back into the society. From West's perspective during the war, the condition of being traumatized by war is seen as curable.[6]


Freudian psychoanalysis and its tools for understanding the psychological state of an individual are important to the novel. Freud and the idea of psychoanalysis were popular during the time when West was writing the novel and the focuses on psychoanalysis is fundamental to the conclusion of the book. In the conclusion, Chris is miraculously cured after his subconscious is first analyzed and then confronted by the doctor and Margaret. Despite West's expressing in 1928 that the novel is not focused on psychoanalysis, critics have paid close attention to it often criticizing the simplicity of the psychoanlytical solution to Chris's amnesia. The rapidity of the recovery, and the failure of the reader to witness the conversation between Margaret and Chris are often cited by several critics, especially Wolfe, Orel, Gledhill and Sokoloff.[4][5][7]

Literary scholars Cristina Pividori, Wyatt Bonikowski and Steve Pinkerton all seek to challenge the negative reception of the psychological tools in the novel.[5][7] Bonowskie dissects the novel in light of the discussion of World War I proposed by Freud in "Thoughts for the Times on War and Death" and Beyond the Pleasure Principle and says that Freud and West came to similar conclusions on the effect of war on the human ego: that war shatter's the defensive mechanisms which the ego creates to defend itself.[7] Pividori argues that West utilizes a more complex understanding of the human psyche than Freud. Pividori argues that West doesn't believe that the soldier must relive the trauma to reconcile it within himself like Freud argues. In West's assessment of the situation, the soldier's desire to survive leads him to a search for love and life so that he may communicate the atrocities which he has witnessed.[5] Pinkerton argues that the end of The Return of the Soldier points to Margaret as a character and individual who is extremely adept in analyzing and in tune with Chris and that the actual event is plausible within current psychoanalytic theory. Pinkerton even goes so far as to suggest that the very nature of the trauma and kind of cure necessary to resolve Chris's trauma means that "The scene of Chris's cure, then cannot be written" because the resolution is simply unable to effectively be described.[4]

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