The Wars, written by Timothy Findley in 1977, is a novel that narrates the personal experiences of a young Canadian soldier amid World War I. As the narrative opens, we are introduced to Robert Ross. Following the tragic loss of his sister, Rowena, he decided to enroll in the army. Robert is expected to keep an eye on her, but instead, he is masturbating in his bedroom. Ross is motivated to serve in the military due to this horrible tragedy. Throughout the narrative, Robert is subjected to some further misfortunes and disappointments. Robert’s insanity is caused by the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a mental health-related condition exhibited by the cruelty and bloodshed of battle.
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The reader gets a sense of Robert and Rowena’s bond right from the start of the book. His sister, who has hydrocephalus, is dear to him. Taking care of his sister provides him with a sense of purpose, and he sees her as an extension of himself. Robert was supposed to be looking after Rowena when she slipped, an incident that led to her demise. His sister’s death has left him with a deep sense of shame, and he believes it is due to his lack of attention. Presumably, he shares this view since he was masturbating in his bedroom as his sister died. Robert’s sanity begins to weaken after this shameful and sad incident. Ross’s mother appears in the middle of his bath and confronts him. While Robert believes Rowena belongs to him, he learns from his mother that this is not the case and that no one is our own and that we are all in the hands of strangers, she tells him. Ross enlists in the military to escape his guilt and mother, who eventually keeps pushing him away.
Animals play an essential part in this work, and the reader can feel Robert’s affection for them. In France, Robert is assigned aboard a boat to care for the horses while learning to fight (Findley 207). When the narrator is confronted with the horse’s injury in the stable, he is informed he was responsible for putting it down. Due to a deep love for animals, Robert is reluctant to kill the wounded horse and struggles to follow his instructions. He curled himself into a ball with damp knees and used all of his effort to push himself forward. So many times had he pushed the trigger that when Sergeant-Major yanked him away, the revolver continued to click in his hands,” he said ” (pg. 63). In light of this latest incident, Robert’s sanity is again in jeopardy. His mental health starts to deteriorate since he no longer controls his principles or morality due to the battle.
The story depicts the effects of war on Robert and the hardship and craziness of his immediate family and friends. As the narrative progresses, the capacity of characters to adjust has a primary connection with their survival; those who can fast develop are the ones who survive. Robert is in a precarious position because of his susceptibility to violence. His increasingly violent behaviour is a sign of his worsening mental health. Additionally, his sleep deprivation may be to blame for his worsening mental condition. “There was a risk in sleeping. The body does not care what one’s mind tells them. One is never really asleep. On a battlefield, no one dreams. Long night’s rests are unheard of; lack of sleep impacted Robert and many of the men in the war (Findley 125). Sleep deprivation may adversely affect an ordinary person’s well-being and mental health, especially for those who deal with death and loss every day.
Robert spends the rest of his life attempting to make up for Rowena’s death. It might be perceived as a way to avoid “growing up” in a society that associates adulthood with a lack of empathy (Brydon 73). A sacrifice of Rowena’s bunnies, according to Brydon, adds to Robert’s first encounter with authority irrationality (73). After all, the rabbits are a memorial to Robert’s late sister. Robert shatters mirrors when confused or irritated, which is unusual for him. He shatters the glass like he did the mirror at the brothel. In some ways, Robert’s actions resemble a denial for which he has become rather than a quest for truth (Brydon 76). It would be terrible to contemplate his transformation. Overall, Brydon’s argument shows Robert is insane, and his common sense is eroding as the conflict progresses.
In the novel, Robert’s rape was a distressing scene. Robert was frightened by this image in the darkness because he had no idea who his assailants might be. Cobley asserts, “Robert is confronted by an incomprehensible darkness as he tries to see through it outside of the Enlightenment’s tranquil paradigm. Ending with Robert’s loss of vision, this theme is reinforced ” (107). In this ominous darkness, Robert’s mental health is deteriorating. He lost his innocence and is trying to erase the happy childhood memories he once had. When Robert disposes of Rowena’s portrait after the rape, he violates her dignity and privacy. He was reminded of happier times and a more rational world by the painting of Rowena. By deleting the photo, Robert has come to terms with the fact that those days are long gone and will never return. Post Traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) causes Robert to accept that he will never be happy again. He is unable to empathize because he has lost his sense of morality.
Brydon, Diana. “’It Could Not Be Told:’ Making Meaning in Timothy Findley’ s The Wars.” Journal of Commonwealth Literature, 1986, pp. 62–79.
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Cobley, Evelyn. “Postmodernist War Fiction: Findley’s The Wars.” Canadian Literature, vol.147, 1995, pp. 98–124.
Findley, Timothy. The Wars. 1977.