"The occupants of memory have to be protected from strangers."
Findley introduces this line as he speaks about the veterans of war. Lying in hospitals or retirement communities, they did not perish in battle, but would like to either forget what happened or believe an alternative version of past events entirely. When they are faced with questions about their experiences from inquiring strangers, the truth may come to the surface, causing them great pain and heartache. This quote also touches on one of the central themes of the novel: privacy. Several characters must revisit difficult memories as part of telling Robert's story; the reader thus becomes the stranger that invades that privacy.
"Robert Ross was no Hitler. That was his problem."
Robert Ross does not have the power of a figure like Hitler, which would have allowed him to directly and greatly affect the world. At the same time he is incapable of great cruelty because he values life so intensely. While this is a positive attribute, it also proves to be part of what many see to be his undoing. Robert's concern for the horses leads to a chain of events that sees him disfigured and court-martialed.
Turner is also arguing for the extraordinary acts of ordinary people. Robert is not known to the general public, but Turner argues that if people did know about Robert and what he did, he might be perceived as a hero.
"Where, in this dark, was the world he had known? And where was he being taken to so fast there wasn’t even time to stop?"
This quote signals the vast changes that the war has ushered into the world. Robert no longer recognizes his home town. As the novel progresses, he no longer recognizes the world at large. Findley's larger indictment of war is that the true victims of it are those who fight it.
"He fired. A chair fell over in his mind. He closed his eyes and opened them."
Robert shoots the horse with the broken leg in the ship's holding. As he does, Findley re-introduces the image of a chair falling, evoking Robert's memories of his sister, Rowena, and the guilt of her death. Animal imagery is prevalent throughout the book, particularly involving horses. Animals represent an innocence and fragility associated with the natural world, as well as with Rowena herself. Shooting the horse goes against everything Robert believes and when he completes the task, it is as if he is killing his sister all over again.
"Someone once said to Clive: do you think we will ever be forgiven for what we've done? They meant their generation and the war and what the war had done to civilization. Clive said something I've never forgotten. He said: I doubt we'll ever be forgiven. All I hope is - they'll remember we were human beings."
In this quote Juliet comments on the atrocities perpetrated during the war and the legacy the war generation will leave. Clive's statement, that the atrocities were, after all, committed by human beings, comments on the dark impulses and mistakes of which all humans are capable. Clive's analysis proves to be correct. While World War I was billed to be "the war to end all wars", numerous conflicts came about in the remainder of the 20th century. Each of these had its fair share of casualties and atrocities.
"This - to Bates - was the greatest terror of war: what you didn't know of the men who told you what to do - where to go and when. What if they were mad - or stupid? What if their fear was greater than yours? Or what if they were brave and crazy - wanting and demanding bravery from you?"
Findley touches on a soldier's personal doubts about his commanding officers, whose orders could cost a subordinate his life. The idea of bravery is also called into question. Soldiers were expected to put aside fear for the sake of their country, but what if that expectation flew in the face of their rationality? Bates is unsure of his orders. Robert Ross outright disobeys Captain Leather because he thinks Leather is insane and totally removed from the reality of the war. To follow his orders, Robert feels, would be madness. In such a case, the only truly brave thing to do is to disobey.
"Robert saw a small white farm with a cow in the yard and he thought: there cannot be a war."
Robert Ross passes a small farm on his way to Bailleul and sees a cow in the yard. The image is so far removed from the horror of the war that he can't imagine that one is even taking place. At the same time, the quote can be read to mean that Robert wishes the war would end so that such tranquility and beauty can continue to exist. This image draws upon the recurring theme of the innocence of animals.
"Robert sat on the mutilated mattress and opened his kit bag. Everything was there - including the picture of Rowena. Robert burned it in the middle of the floor. This was not an act of anger - but an act of charity."
Robert finally receives his kit bag back. It is dropped off by Poole. Robert has just been raped but does not tell Poole this. In his kit bag is the pistol he wished he'd had just moments earlier. Rowena's picture was something he had clung to in the hope of maintaining her memory. Following the rape he has lost his dignity as well as his treasured sense of privacy. The charity that Findley writes of refers not to Rowena but to Robert himself. By letting go of his sister, he is letting go of the guilt he has carried over her death. Rowena's picture and memory also provided him a sense of comfort, of a time when he was happier and the world made more sense. By destroying her image, Robert is acknowledging that those days are gone and will never return. While this seems therapeutic in some way, it also signals a dark turn in his character. Robert now sees the world he lives in as much more grim than the one he once knew. Rowena, he feels, would not understand this world any better. While he misses his sister, he is also glad she has not survived to see it the way the world is now.
"If an animal had done this - we would call it mad and shoot it."
After watching three shells land in the barnyard and kill or maim all the horses or mules, Robert is deeply enraged. He looks over the carnage and thinks the above quote to himself. Robert indicts humanity and the act of war, stating that if any animal had done anything like what these soldiers were perpetrating, the animal would be put down. Instead, he shoots Captain Leather, a human embodiment of ignorance and arrogance. He holds Captain Leather responsible for not letting him evacuate the animals earlier. As a result, they are now dead. This is a criminal action in Robert's opinion.
"But that night - surrounded by all that dark - and all those men in pain - and the trains kept bringing us more and more and more - and the war was never, never, never going to end - that night, I thought: I am ashamed to be alive. I am ashamed of life. And I wanted to offer some way out of life - I wanted grace for Robert Ross."
Marian Turner decides she wants to offer Robert Ross death. Overwhelmed by the rising rate of casualties that she is seeing, as well as the looming feeling that the war will never end, she takes pity on Robert for all he has lost. She also feels shame for her own life. Turner's quote mirrors the feelings about the state of the world that Robert himself had when he burned Rowena's photograph. That, Findley wrote, was an act of "charity". Turner offers Robert a painless death as a kind of charity, too. She can't help but feel guilty over being alive and able, and she can't help but wonder why anyone would want to go on living like that in a world consumed by war. That Robert rejects the offer is of paramount importance. Despite all that he has been through, Robert Ross believes in life and clings to hope as a result.
The Wars Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Wars is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
I think the war affects Robert by taking away his innocence as well as his sense of self. He is always in conflict trying to retain his understanding of the world before the war: unfortunately it keeps slipping away. Rowena's death, is a tragic...
Robert's commanding officer from Wytsbrouk. He arrives at the front after the dugout is destroyed and utters the phrase "Just so" in response to just about every remark. He seems entirely disconnected from the reality of the war,...