The Wars

The Wars Summary and Analysis of Part Five (I)


Robert arrives at Waterloo Station on his way back to the front. He discovers that his kit bag, containing his socks, shirt, underwear, binoculars, and his Webley pistol, has not made the trip with him. He feels naked without these items, particularly the pistol. The way back to the front is circuitous and long, fraught with delays. Robert thinks about his family, imagining them at Jackson’s Point occupying the screened porch they would frequent in the spring. He imagines what each of them would be doing. When he thinks of his mother, he stops, saddened.

Robert arrives at a town called Magdalene Wood by train. He is still twelve miles from his destination at Bailleul. It is 4 am. He settles on a bench and falls asleep. He is roused by a white dog. He shares some of his rations with it. He inquires with the station officer and is told that he should walk the remainder of the way if he wants to arrive in Bailleul before nightfall. His belongings will come by wagon but if he waits it will be after midnight before he arrives and all the hotel beds may be taken.

On the road Robert passes a farm with a cow in the yard. “There cannot be a war," he thinks to himself. When he finally arrives at Bailleul he is exhausted and suffering a headache. He sleeps irregularly and wakes at odd hours, hungry and unkempt. He has been sleeping in the same shirt and underwear for days. He undresses and stares at himself in the mirror. He looks like a fugitive. His beard and his sunken face make him look like an old man. He lies on the bed and begins caressing himself before masturbating and falling asleep.

He wakes the next day after noon. He is looking forward to a bath. An old woman brings him tea and a jug of water. He shaves, dresses, and walks through the town on his way to Desolé, where he can bathe in the bath house. Desolé houses inmates and patients, many of whom are mentally impaired. Soldiers often come there to bathe and relax.

Robert undresses and leaves his clothing in an old cell. He particularly dislikes the feeling of the small room, having become afraid of small spaces ever since the walls of the dugout collapsed. He bathes until the skin on his fingers ie wrinkled. As he leaves, some of the patients begin to cause a scene and are restrained by the attendants. When he enters the cell he notices that the lantern is out. The door slams closed behind him. He is trapped inside with several other men, but cannot see them at all. The towel in his hand is yanked away and the men descend on him. They molest him and then hold him down while one rapes him. His assailants are his fellow soldiers and Robert never sees their faces.

Back in his room Robert wants clean clothes and his pistol. He begins looking all over the room, tearing it apart looking for these things. He tears the mattress and pillows and knocks over the dresser. There is a knock at the door. It is Poole. He has Robert’s kit bag. Robert invites him in and asks about the others. He learns that Bonnycastle is dead. Robert wants desperately to embrace Poole but he knows that they can’t, and mustn’t. After an awkward conversation, Poole leaves. Robert opens his kit bag and finds the picture of Rowena. He burns it in the middle of the floor.

Robert rides to the front with an ammunition convoy. They pass the marsh where Robert nearly drowned in the winter. While approaching the front the convoy is attacked by an airplane. Robert is thrown from his horse but lands on his feet. He calms the animal and finds his kit bag. Juliet’s candle has wedged itself in the ground and is alight. Robert collects it and helps the survivors. One rainy night on the road between Wytsbrouk and Bailleul Robert’s horse suddenly stops and refuses to go further. He dismounts to investigate what the problem could be. He finds the body of an officer in the road. The officer is Clifford Purchas, dead.

On the seventh day after his return to the front, Robert finds that the German guns have finally found their mark. Almost all the shells fall directly on the line. Robert has hardly slept for three days and is surviving on tea, rum, and chocolate bars. Robert goes to Captain Leather to request that he be allowed to take the horses and mules and make a strategic retreat so that they might be saved. Captain Leather, huddled under a table, refuses.


The final portion of the novel details Robert's undoing. Upon finally arriving in Magdalene Wood he learns that his kit bag has not arrived with him. He is most notably without his pistol as a result. This element of fire, which allowed him to protect himself and restore order, is gone; its absence will have tragic results for Robert.

Upon reaching Bailleul he takes a room and undresses in front of the mirror, a scene that contrasts with his last experience doing this when he was afflicted with jaundice. Then, he saw himself as a youthful embodiment of his hero Longboat. Now, he sees himself more as an old man. The war has taken his youth and left him prematurely aged. Findley foreshadows Robert's death with this image. Robert lies down on the bed and begins to masturbate, finally falling asleep with the "cold, wet blooming of four hundred thousand possibilities - of all those lives that would never be - on his fingertips." Although Findley is referring literally to the thousands of sperm in Robert's ejaculate, it is a clear metaphor for the lives of the men who have perished in the war. Consider also the comfort that Robert takes in this private sexual act. Whereas the rest of the novel's sexual acts have not been truly private, Robert seems to enjoy this freedom without any sense of shame. He falls asleep without concern.

This comforting sexual act starkly contrasts with the violent rape scene. Robert enters his cell and is trapped inside, like an animal. He cannot see his attackers or know how many there are. Here the greatest invasion of his privacy takes place. Robert's body and spirit are invaded. Findley, defending the inclusion of this scene in the novel, has stated that he felt that the war, and those who made it, raped Robert Ross's entire generation of men. He is descended upon by his fellow soldiers, only making the ordeal that much more tragic. His attackers, as Findley sees them, are themselves also victims of the war.

When Robert returns to his room in Bailleul he is reunited with his kit bag and his pistol, too late. He could have used the pistol just moments earlier but now it has cruelly appeared after he ransacks his room looking for it. Robert does not tell Poole what happened but wishes he could reach out and embrace him. He knows he cannot and must not. Again, Findley touches upon the specter of homophobia. It was this same fear of being perceived as a homosexual that led Robert to go to the brothel in Lousetown. Here it prevents him from embracing his friend at a time when he most needs one. After Poole departs Robert destroys the picture of Rowena he had taken with him. Findley calls this an act of charity. Robert's opinion of the world has been forever changed. He doesn't want Rowena to exist in a world like this anymore. Here Findley captures the last bit of innocence that Robert had kept. With the act of rape and the final extinguishing of his sister's memory, Robert's innocence is removed from the world.

Robert's attempt to control his own violent tendencies finally fails at the novel's climactic scene. Realizing that the German guns will strike the barnyard housing the horses, Robert dutifully asks permission from Captain Leather to remove the horses and prevent their deaths. When Leather refuses, Robert disobeys orders. Devlin says that he does not want to get into trouble, but Robert argues that Leather is insane and does not know what is happening. This reasoning convinces Devlin. The morality of what happens next is left to the reader to judge. Is Robert a traitor or a hero? Robert's private morals finally come into direct conflict with the public concerns of the war. He frees the horses only to watch his friend Devlin die at the hands of Captain Leather. When the shells land on the barnyard and kill the very horses he was attempting to save, the violent impulses that Robert has sought to repress come to the surface. He enacts his own private justice upon Leather and flees, knowing the public judgment for his actions will result in a court martial.