Regeneration Irony

War Psychologist

Dr. Rivers’s position as a psychologist at a war hospital is highly ironic. He guides patients through recovery so that they may return to the front, where they will once again face trauma, injury, and death. The position is a cruel twist on the medical standard to do no harm; by providing any help at all, Dr. Rivers is facilitating future harm. Dr. Rivers, aware of the paradoxical nature of his position, struggles to manage the tension between protecting his patients’ best interest and fulfilling his duties to the military.

Silencing Callan

Dr. Rivers notes the effectiveness of silence as a protest. When men are prevented from voicing their thoughts, silence can communicate reproach, disdain, and condemnation. Dr. Yealland, also sensing the power silence can carry, forces his patient Callan to speak. By inducing Callan to speak, he has robbed him of the only form of protest available to him, ironically silencing him. Once Callan speaks, Dr. Yealland is able to control his words, demanding he repeat phrases and manipulating Callan into thanking him. Silence, on the other hand, is much more difficult to control.

Sassoon and Combat

Sassoon’s opposition to the war derives from what he perceives as its violent and meaningless nature. Every day that the war continues, men die horrible deaths on the front for reasons that remain muddied and vague. Sassoon is well aware of the horrors of combat, experiencing frightening dreams filled with mangled corpses. Yet the lieutenant also believes that combat imparts a special understanding, elevating those who have fought above civilians and other non-combatants. He ironically holds that combat is both awful and a source of pride.

Sassoon and Rivers

From the beginning of his treatment of Sassoon, Dr. Rivers asserts that the lieutenant is "a mentally and physically healthy man" (73). He believes that his job will involve convincing Sassoon that his emotionally charged anti-war opinions should not dominate his actions. However, the irony of their professional relationship is that Sassoon holds onto his opinions despite this treatment, even though his mental health is actually deteriorating. Eventually, he has to lie about his nightmares and hallucinations in order to be sent back to France. Meanwhile, Dr. Rivers's opinion about the war changes as a result of his time with Sassoon. In this way, these two men reverse roles: Sassoon, duty-bound, refuses to change his beliefs and decides to go back to the war, while Dr. Rivers realizes the error of his rigid adherence to military code. Rivers also comes to understand that Sassoon was not as mentally healthy as he thought upon first meeting the lieutenant, but it is too late for him to do anything about it.