Explore the ways in which “Journey’s End” presents ideas about heroism. Compare and contrast this with the presentation of heroism in “Blackadder Goes Forth” and evaluate the view that “Journey’s End” celebrates heroism, whereas “Blackadder Goes Forth” does not. “Journey’s End” is a complex play laced with ideas about heroism. As it was written by a war veteran, the messages involved should be credible and insightful. “Journey’s End” does seem to celebrate heroism as it is a very dominant theme within the play, and it is shown in both various ways.
In contrast, “Blackadder Goes Forth” doesn’t exactly look on heroism as a good aspect of the war (or something to celebrate), but more of a necessity. However, both dramas do show opposing views, from Hibbert’s initial cowardice to Stanhope’s obligated bravery and from George’s naive enthusiasm to Blackadder’s desperation to escape: it could easily be argued that the writers were trying to present views that both celebrate heroism and do not. “Journey’s End” incorporates heroism very thoroughly to give the audience an understanding of the circumstances the soldiers had to face.
Hibbert is a perfect example, as he is an officer that is reluctant to stay in the trenches any longer – so fakes his neuralgia in an attempt to leave. His anxiety breaks through to the surface, as he argues with Stanhope: “I swear I’ll never go into those trenches again”. Yet Stanhope’s mantra is “just go on sticking it out”, and he manages to persuade Hibbert with very patriotic speech, telling him to “take the chance, old chap”. Stanhope is the voice of reason here and speaks almost as Hibbert’s conscience. Hibbert is required to be brave despite being incredibly fearful and flighty.
Fear is relentless within each of the characters, but its concealment is what differs. Although in “Blackadder Goes Forth”, George is at the other extreme with his boyish over-enthusiasm, due to his naivety and upper-class background. This inadvertently makes him a hero, at least in the eyes of someone like General Melchett, for being so eager and committed. Yet in “Goodbyeee”, George’s character is developed as he admits his fear of death – which suggests he’s been aware of the dangers for quite some time and perhaps just feels inclined to fight “for king and country”.
This isn’t unheroic by any means, but somewhat tragic, and it’s quite essential for George’s inner thoughts and feelings to be presented – as it’s a total contrast from how he seems. Before he reveals his fear of death to the others, Melchett offers to let him come back to HQ and can “guarantee a seat in the car”, but George’s blind-faith in the war propaganda is so strong that he declines, as he wouldn’t want “to miss this show for anything” – an over-exaggerated conversation structured by Curtis and Elton to highlight the ridiculousness of the circumstances of the war.
“Blackadder Goes Forth” has been criticised by Michael Gove, as he says it reflects “an unhappy compulsion on the part of some to denigrate virtues such as patriotism, honour and courage”. I disagree, though it is important to remember they are short comedy episodes that carry truthful representations of the war in a satirical light. I do believe the show criticises the glorification of honour and patriotism (within propaganda, for example), but it doesn’t mock the heroes themselves. Courage is subtle within the drama, and it definitely isn’t a characteristic that is belittled.
In the final episode as Baldrick offers his “cunning plan”, Blackadder says “Well, I’m afraid it’ll have to wait”, which seems to be in the knowledge that they won’t return. This is the ultimate bravery as they go over the top and collectively face death. Stanhope has to carry the burden of the image of heroism, as he’s struggling with alcoholism. He is both a hardened and troubled officer who entered the war with the intention of being heroic, yet turned to alcohol as a coping mechanism. Stanhope carries this burden until his death.
He has a tough outer-shell despite breaking down inside, and both this exterior mirage and his inner conflicts are exposed to the audience, which allows them to see the reality of life in the trenches. Despite his issues, he remains loyal to his duty. When Raleigh questions Stanhope drinking after Osborne’s death, Stanhope displays another war-earned trait by losing his temper and asking him if he thinks “there’s no limit to what a man can bear? ”. This question reflects Stanhope’s personal issues and elaborates his drinking problem.
It could also mirror Sherriff’s experience, and writing through Stanhope and the other conflicted characters provides a release – through revisiting the war, almost. Heroism seems to be Stanhope’s anchor in the middle of chaos, but through this image he’s able to manipulate anyone under his command. This is similar to the authority he had in school (punishing younger boys for drinking, ironically enough) of which Raleigh remembers and so idolises him all his life. Raleigh is the opposite of Stanhope in terms of experience, and is fresh with innocence.
He ‘earns’ his hero status through his constant urge to do his duty, which much like Stanhope and his facade of heroism, carries to his death. The naive and inexperienced boy watches a friend die in front of him, and he also dies in a very noble way. He insists “I’m certain I’ll be better if – if I get up”, showing patriotism in a sick and sad sense, which seems specifically written to demonstrate his youthful heroism. Although mortally wounded, Raleigh’s fighting spirit is undiminished.
Stanhope’s honesty within his confession to Osborne gives further depth to his character, especially when he says: “D’you ever get a sudden feeling that everything’s going farther and farther away – till you’re the only thing in the world – and then the world begins going away – until you’re the only thing in – in the universe – and you struggle to get back – and can’t? ”. This unmasks Stanhope’s isolated psyche and how adrift he feels, proving that he faces many torments, armed with a great deal of courage.
I believe that Sherriff wrote this confession scene to unearth deeper dilemmas that Stanhope had in order to shock the audience and get them to sympathise with the universal soldier, and respect them as heroes – for not only putting their lives on the line, but their mentality and physicality. Publisher Ralph Hodder-Williams criticised “Journey’s End” in 1929: “You have no idea what terrible offence “Journey’s End” has given — and terrible pain too, which is a great deal more important.
I think you will agree that the chronic alcoholic was extraordinarily rare. ” – this strikes me as being a reflection of the time as this critique was during the prohibition, a time in which alcohol was frowned upon, so Hodder-Williams may have taken a dislike to Stanhope’s behaviour and the way Sherriff presented him. I also think his comment about “the chronic alcoholic” isn’t accurate, as Robert Gore-Langton asked veteran Captain Amherst about alcohol in the trenches, and he said he “never drew a sober breath”.
The inaccuracy may be due to a lot of people, even in 1929, not recognising the emotional and psychological impact of trench warfare. “Terrible pain” is also very extreme, as I think Sherriff was simply trying to expose the escape from the war that some soldiers needed, much like Blackadder in “Blackadder Goes Forth”. Within the show, the desperation to leave is apparent and is used as a comedic feature – but the meaning behind it is more sincere. The dialogue is laced with irony and satire, particularly involving or directed at General Melchett.
Melchett’s speech is propaganda based and so obviously immoral, and with the aid of Blackadder’s sarcastic retorts, the audience realise how cowardly the high-ranking officers were – which is the total opposite of the obligated bravery of the soldiers. Melchett and Darling are particularly mocked when they reassure Blackadder and Co. that they are “right behind you”, to which Blackadder responds “yes, 35 miles behind us”. Although this is humorous, there is a large grain of truth in it. In this sense, heroism isn’t celebrated – it’s seen as a necessity.
As contemporary writers, Curtis and Elton are writing solely based on history and personal opinion, but successfully convey the idea that in the war it wasn’t a choice to be a hero or not. I also believe that although “Journey’s End” celebrates heroism, Sherriff writes such individual problems and developed characteristics for each officer so they are recognised by the audience as actual humans – and when together they meet their ultimate fate, it all feels futile and very tragic, so much so that the officers can’t not be considered heroes.
In conclusion, although “Blackadder Goes Forth” and “Journey’s End” are works of a different time, they both carry very important ideas regarding heroism that remain relevant today. Heroism is defined as “great bravery”, and I believe the characters within these dramas – and all those involved in the war – truly epitomise what it is to be a hero. (1,476 words)