Regeneration Metaphors and Similes

The Wounded

“'I looked back and the ground was covered with wounded. Lying on top of each other, writhing. Like fish in a pond that’s drying out'” (79).

Prior uses a simile to vividly describe leading a useless charge across No Man’s Land. Barker’s language draws attention to the grotesque consequences of violence. This focus is in keeping with Regeneration’s anti-war message, which eschews the glorification of war to focus on its horrifying effects. Prior’s comparison of dying soldiers to fish in a pond is disturbingly mundane; the quotidian parallel allows readers to easily picture the writhing agony of fallen troops. The simile also suggests a certain amount of dehumanization: Prior sees his wounded comrades not as people, but as animals. His “burst of exultation” at their plight is only possible because of this detachment.


“'What am I supposed to do with this gob-stopper?'” (103).

After finding a bright blue eye amongst the remains of his soldiers, Prior palms it and asks the man next to him what to do with it, comparing the eye-ball to a piece of candy. Prior’s choice of words is significant. After holding the “gob-stopper,” his gob, British slang for mouth, literally stops working and he is rendered mute. Again, Barker uses a mundane comparison to heighten the horror of the scene. Furthermore, readers familiar with the candy can now easily imagine the size and shape of the disembodied eye in Prior’s hand, thus bringing the strange and disturbing image closer to the reader's experience.


“‘Yesterday, at the seaside, I felt as if I came from another planet’” (134).

Prior likens himself to an alien to describe his feelings of isolation from the general public. Combat affects the characters in the novel so deeply that they are often unable to resume normal lives. By describing himself as a visitor from another planet, Prior speaks to the tremendous distance between soldiers and civilians; this sense of alienation engenders significant resentment and envy in some. Sassoon experiences similar feelings to Prior, despising civilians for their failure to understand the pain and damage the war has wrought on those who are fighting.

The Front

“This waste of mud, these sump holes reflecting a dim light at the sky, even that tower. It was like France. Like the battlefields” (179).

Dr. Rivers comments on the transformation of the English landscape as he searches for Burns, projecting the imagery of trench warfare onto the small seaside town to which Burns has retreated after being discharged. Yet Burns's retreat is in vain: flashes of the war intrude on his childhood home in rural England. Barker’s comparison demonstrates the impossibility of escaping the front for the soldiers who have fought there. It is in fact the image of gutted fish and the booming sounds of a marooned boat that eventually force Burns to remember his most traumatic battlefield experiences, despite his dedication to forgetting them.


“In her world, men loved women as the fox loves the hare. And women loved men as the tapeworm loves the gut” (195).

Barker uses this simile to outline Ada Lumb's harsh view of romance in which human beings are animals; males are predatory and females are dependent. In her mind, partnerships are about satiating a man's sexual needs and a woman's desire for financial dependence. Ada’s harsh views of romantic love stem from a lifetime of abandonment, abuse, and suffering. Therefore, the use of simile in Ada's description of romance appropriately engenders feelings of danger and disgust rather than intimacy and love. Sarah ultimately rejects her mother’s morbid views and pursues a romantic relationship with Billy Prior, but she admits that her mother's perspective has affected her.