In “The Show”, one of the main techniques Owen uses to present his feelings is the metaphor that runs throughout the poem – the constant comparison of the soldiers to the caterpillars is a technique that I believe is very effective. It has numerous effects on the reader, one of which is to make us feel that Owen is bitter about the war as a whole – the comparison with the insects serves to generalise the soldiers which implies that somehow they are less valuable individually.
As a result of this, the reader feels as if Owen is mirroring what he believes are the attitudes of people back at home to the soldiers, which is where the feeling of bitterness in the poem stems from. A similar effect of the continuous metaphor is that the reader feels that Owen is trivialising the soldiers and what they do – he has reduced them to a comparison with insects. An aspect of this that is particularly effective is that in general, people do not think twice about killing insects, and so the link to the soldiers here is more disturbing for the reader as we realise what this link signifies.
Mental Cases Summary
Here, it seems as if Owen is again highlighting public attitude about the war and is angry about how people perhaps would have not recognised the individual sacrifices and suffering of each soldier. Owen also compares the soldiers to less desirable groups in “Dulce et Decorum Est”, when he describes them as “hags” and “old beggars”. However, the effect of the comparison there is that it creates sadness for the reader, because we feel that it is awful that such young men should be reduced to being described as inferior to what they actually are, as the word “hags” has connotations of being old, wrinkled and are often seen as evil .
As a result of this, “Dulce” appears to immediately communicate that Owen is bitter but also sad himself at this drop in standards for the men, showing that the same technique is used by Owen to great effect in numerous poems. I feel it also communicates his sadness to us through the mockery of the soldiers here, because he felt it significant enough to use in the opening lines of the poem, showing that he wished this to be one of our main reactions to “Dulce”.
Another main effect of the running metaphor in this poem is that the comparison heightens the feeling of disgust for the reader – much of the language creates gruesome images straightaway, but when applied to the alternative meaning of the metaphor (i. e. the soldiers) it becomes even more gruesome. For example, “where they writhed and shrivelled, killed”, creates awful imagery even when applied to the caterpillars, as “writhed” carries implications of suffering great pain.
However, it is even more disturbing when applied to the soldiers because as well as “writhing” carrying implications of pain in this context, it is also an unnatural action for a human to make, whereas the natural actions of some insects could be described as writhing. The word “shrivelled” also has a similar effect, in that it is very graphic and very unnatural. The resulting imagery of a soldier being in such excessive pain that his body would contort in such a way is extremely shocking and disturbing for the reader, and makes us feel hugely sympathetic to all the soldiers.
Another example of the disgust being created is when the caterpillars are described as “plugs” – a plug is made to fit a hole, and the link that implies the soldier were also ‘made’ to fill the ditches is somewhat disturbing. I believe Owen used such graphic and disgusting language in order to shock the reader, because that way it would effectively communicate the feeling of anger and bitterness about the situation. I also feel that Owen may have been trying to use this language to shock because he may have wished us to feel guilty about our attitudes.
Owen also uses grotesque language in another of his war poems, “Mental Cases”, and I believe that the effects are similar to those of “The Show”, in that Owen used such language in order to shock the reader, for example “shatter of flying muscles”. This sentence is very graphic and creates horrific imagery in our minds as we read which creates shock and disgust. However, there is no hidden metaphor in “Mental Cases”, which means that the language has more of an immediate impact, but does not seem quite as disturbing as the aim of the use of this language seems to be more obvious to the reader.
Although much of the language in “The Show” creates repulsive imagery, many of the words themselves seem to be very understated, for example “curl, lift and flatten”. These words are usually very normal and everyday words to describe movement – they are not exaggerated or extreme. As a result of this, the reader again feels that Owen is somewhat trivialising everything in the poem, and making it less significant. A specific example of how he does this is when he uses the phrase “bitten backs” to describe the potentially fatal injuries that the soldiers have obtained on the battlefields.