The Eye in the Door

New Identities in Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy

Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy is a series of novels that explore various marginalized subjects in WWI-era Britain. Originally set in a mental hospital, she is particularly interested in exploring concepts of madness – how a society decides what constitutes madness and how the mad are subsequently treated. Through the use of two apparently insane protagonists, Siegfried Sassoon and Billy Prior, the author destabilizes traditional notions of madness and privileges the madman as a site of cultural subversion. In the trilogy, these characters represent emergent identities – a kind of knowledge that develops on the border of possible thought. Dangerous and frightening, these characters are marginalized by the cultural institutions of the time: the space they inhabit and their bodies become sites of cultural contest – spaces to be controlled. However, through several subversive tactics, these characters begin to ‘speak back’ at existing systems of control. They transform and ‘pervert’ the very institutions that attempt to regulate their mad behaviour, reaching their ultimate expression in Prior who is able to free himself (almost completely) of cultural limitations, free to cross cultural, psychological and personal boundaries in...

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