What does this novel suggest about war, and what does it mean to be a hero?
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The novel concerns itself with a number of different "wars". First, there is the obvious literal war of World War I. However, domestic disputes also factor into the title. Both the Ross and d'Orsey families experience problems at home while the war rages. Still another struggle is the internal one each character faces, most notably Robert.
Findley revisits the topic of private vs. public throughout the novel. Robert envies a soldier he meets and wishes to leave his home due to the private guilt he feels over his sister's death. He then is thrust into a very public war where he is vulnerable and where he finds judgment waiting for him. He struggles to hold on to his privacy as best he can. He is socially awkward, particularly around women. When the other soldiers go to the brothel, he doesn't want to go but feels he must. When he finds himself embarrassed there, he is unable to look past it as a momentary lapse. He is exposed and in that he feels the greatest shame. When he sees Taffler with the Swede he is both shocked and enticed. The war forces things to be exposed and it is a concept Robert is not comfortable with.
Robert's privacy is most violated when he is raped. While it is a physical assault, his spirit suffers the most damage. This private sphere, his body and his mind, are invaded not just by his assailants, but by the war itself. When Robert destroys Rowena's photograph afterward, Findley calls it an act of charity. The charity is toward his sister because Robert no longer finds the world he lives in to be one he recognizes. It has forever changed and with the invasion of his own privacy, so has he.
Additionally, Juliet's admission of seeing Robert and Lady Barbara having sex and Mrs. Ross's admission to Ms. Davenport about her feelings toward the church both invoke deeply held feelings or memories that each character has difficulty expressing.