What is significant about the play's setting and the type of warfare they are engaged in?
The entirety of Journey's End takes place in the officers' dugout of a World War I British trench in France. In this setting, the soldiers eat, sleep, chat, and wait out the war, longing for the moment when their six-day shift on the front lines is over. These officers carry out what came to be known as trench warfare, named for the long, narrow ditches soldiers dug on either side of the battlefield. Trench warfare had a high mortality rate because every time a soldier would get out of the trench, he was exposed to the enemy forces stationed usually fewer than one hundred yards away. An important part of the trench warfare was the dugout, shelters which were more than often situated underground and which served as sleeping areas and places where the soldiers could find refuge during heavy shelling. This type of warfare was common in the First World War, though it became less common with the wider use of armored tanks and bomber planes.
How does the play showcase the complex psychological effects of World War I combat?
Almost every character in Journey's End has been mentally scarred by the horrors which they witnessed during the war. However, the psychological damage of remaining engaged in a combat role is showcased best through Stanhope. Early in the play, the audience learns how Stanhope has become an alcoholic during the war, numbing himself to the horrors of war by keeping himself in a state of constant inebriation. Another character who exhibits psychological strain is Lieutenant Trotter; rather than turn to drink, Trotter becomes obsessed with food and makes bleakly humorous jokes. He also develops the habit of drawing a circle for each hour spent in the trenches and then coloring the circle as the hour passes. This is presented as not just busy work but a coping mechanism, allowing him to savor every hour in which he is not killed. The image evokes a prisoner marking on the cells of his prison every day that he has been incarcerated. All these behaviors, including the tendency to forget important details and violent outbursts, can be attributed to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). During the First World War, the condition was euphemistically referred to as "shell shock," as the symptoms were most overt in soldiers who survived extremely traumatic events, such as shell bombing.
How is the concept of heroism handled in the play?
Early in the play, the audience learns that Raleigh sees Stanhope as a hero—an estimation which Osborne does not disabuse him of. Stanhope, however, refuses to believe he is a hero, because he sees himself as a failure. Stanhope admits he does not feel brave enough to go in no man’s land without being completely drunk; Stanhope believes that a true hero would not need drinking as a coping mechanism. Osborne, however, tries to convince Stanhope that his flaws make him no less heroic, stating that heroes tend to remain heroes no matter what. The irony that Stanhope cannot see is that heroes, in the Greek literary tradition, almost always have a tragic flaw. In this way, Stanhope's drinking and the shame it generates renders him more heroic in the context of a dramatic play.
What is significant about the letter Raleigh writes his sister?
As soon as Stanhope learns that Raleigh has joined his company, he becomes paranoid, believing Raleigh will write to his sister and shatter the image she holds of Stanhope as a great war hero. Though Osborne insists he is overreacting and that Raleigh will not gossip about Stanhope's drinking, Stanhope becomes obsessed with the idea of censoring the letter. In a tense moment, he tells Raleigh that he will have to read it before the letter is sent, and Raleigh withholds it, leading the audience to believe that Stanhope's suspicions were correct. However, in an instance of situational irony, Stanhope's and the audience's expectations are undermined: when Osborne reads the letter aloud, there is no mention of Stanhope's PTSD symptoms. It is clear that Raleigh continues to see him as a hero.
Besides their uses of jargon terms, what is unique about the way the play's characters interact with each other?
The stilted and joking manner in which the characters address each other conveys the play's thematic preoccupation with emotional repression. Characters such as Trotter exhibit a repressive tendency by adopting a blithe attitude toward war, casually making grim jokes about death and disfigurement. Similarly, Osborne is quick to interrupt Stanhope whenever he tries to discuss the dissociative episodes he is experiencing; Osborne wants to reassure Stanhope that he is fighting fit, yet his reassurance also functions as a way of repressing the emotionally uncomfortable truth that underlies the conversation. In this way, the dialogue in Journey's End shows how repression functions as a necessary mechanism for maintaining the outward appearance of confidence and sanity in the desperate circumstances of war.