Friday, April 1, 2011

Analysis of "Disabled" by Wilfred Owen

Soldiers are often tormented by the atrocities that they've witnessed. 
Wilfred Owen Exposing Psychological Trauma and Physical Disabilities Soldiers Endure After War

"Disabled" by Wilfred Owen is a poetic analysis of war that exposes the struggles of adjusting to civilian life. A deeper analysis of "Disabled" reveals the irony of war; a soldier's fight for his country's freedom which results in the sacrifice of his mental and physical freedom. The soldiers and their families suffer from the scars and traumatic events of the war daily, while those that benefit can remain in oblivion of their suffering. Owen’s "Disabled" gives the readers an intimate poem detailing the tragic loss of humanity that a soldier suffers. Because of the war, the soldier has been reduced in mind and body. His friends, essence, memories, desirability, physical strength and admiration all ripped away from him without warning. This poem could universally apply to all the soldiers or even people in similar situations. This why the main character remains nameless and the title, Disabled, broad enough for a wide audience to identify with him. The feelings expressed through poems during World War I enable readers to get a deeper perspective of our emotional aches and pains. In "Disabled" the character's thoughts and actions reflect his desire to be free but instead he is trapped, disabled, oppressed, and repressed inside of his own body, mentally, physically, and emotionally.

The soldier’s disability prevents him from living the life he truly desires. He is no longer whole, but instead he sits in darkness, left waiting with almost no control of his destiny. His mind is focused on his legs; he wants to be able to provide for himself yet he is maimed & disabled. His legs remind of his youth, when he still had dreams, a purpose to fulfill, play time, and the capacity to make himself happy. Unfortunately the war stole his youth and left him in the darkness. Because of his appearance he cannot obtain companionship. In his opinion, he won’t be able to settle down with a woman and be truly loved, touched but instead they “touch him like some queer disease.” He refers to himself like a disease. His appearance and lack of mobility causes him to feel like a burden, unwanted and deathly.

Wilfred Owen suffered from
shell shock after almost losing his
life on two separate occasions.
In his depressed reflections, he has a dreamy, flashback revealing his subconscious thoughts which compare his lowly, disabled state to his triumphant younger days. Now the war has aged him tremendously internally and externally. He no longer has a strong back bone figuratively and literally. Life hasn’t always been this way, which further worsens the fall. His blood and spirit that run through his veins and were drained from his thighs and pain. The war has left him as a walking dead man. The instant that the “purple spurted from his thigh” his life changed forever. He remembered when seeing blood on his leg meant that it was a job well done and that he would receive more praise for his hard work.

His popularity and the company of women used to cloak him unlike his “ghastly suit of grey” that he now is forced to wear. He didn’t feel like a disease but instead a desired member of a powerful team, he was not desperate but controlling his own destiny. Even when he lied about his age to join the army, he was naïve yet fearless. He felt triumphant to the sound of cheerful, supportive drums, with the company of other young soldiers. It depresses him that he was admired more for his glory days in football than for coming out alive after such a horrible war. Now when he needs comfort and validation the most it’s denied. Instead the “solemn man” brings his physical food but no emotional nourishment. The popularity with the ladies has left and now “he noticed how the women’s eyes passed from him to the strong men that were whole”. He remember how it was to be a strong man physical. But sadly his is now trapped in his own disabled body which has resulted in a sharp decline in his mental and emotional strength.

The physical disability is wearing down on the solider internally and once again he is oppressed within his heart and mind. He feels incredible amounts of loneliness, which causes the world to seem dark even though he is near a park. The overwhelming depression over his disability causes “voices of boys to rang saddening him like a hymn”, the usual joyful sounds are clouded by his dark view of the world. He has an intense longing for a friendship without pity or disgust. He hates being ignored or forgotten which is intensified by his own sadness. At the end of the poem we are left with him pleading “How cold and late it is! What don’t they come and put him into bed? Why don’t they come?
Wilfred Owen was wounded during World War I. His
traumatizing experiences and encouragement from
Sassoon inspired him to become a war poet.

He is also in a sense sexually repressed and thus he perceives his manhood to be threatened; he cannot aggressively pursue his desires. “Now he will never feel again how slim girl’s waists are, or how warm their subtle hands.” The constant repression is causing the increased sadness and pain. His fondest memories were usually focused on girls and the attention that he received from them. “About this time Town used to swing so gay when the glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees, and girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim, - In the old time, before he threw away his knees.” Perhaps the most drastic change in his life is the lack sexual interest he gets, which is perhaps a huge attack on his already diminished self-esteem. Those times when “someone has said he’d look a good in kilts,” and his ability to use physical appearance and masculinity to please members of the opposite sex has passed.That change represents to him how useless, damaged and hopeless his life seems. Everyone has a quality about themselves that defines their identity and a social role that normalizes them. His obsession on women symbolizes something deeper. The fact that his leg affects one of the most significant aspects of his being such as his virility causes overwhelming resentment. He often attempts to relive those moments but instead it causes his sadness to grow deeper and his depressing realities more poignant. 

The soldier wants to make his own rules in life, fearlessly without inhibitions or severe hindrance. While for many it can be social norms or morals that hinder us from doing exactly what we desire, he has a different struggle. His last thoughts are the most harrowing but also most hopeful since he considers his stay to be “a few sick years in institutes” even though his disability is for a lifetime. Overall this poem is a reflection of him wanting to break free but instead there are so many factors that are preventing this. Even the institutions that provide physical care are forcing him to “do what things that rules consider wise and that whatever put they may dole.” This thought about the confinement temporarily distracts him from the larger issue at hand, until the very end when his thoughts remind him about women. The reminder of how the women pass over him, once again reminds him about his loneliness and lack of control over his own life. He doesn't have the strength that women admire to warm and put himself to bed, nor the friends that would do it out of love rather than duty.

Literature illustrates to us tragic situations and explores social issues that are difficult to fully understand through statistics. Wilfred Owen gives us a grim image of this soldier’s life to introduce us to the horrors and realities of war. The questions are asked “Are the numerous sacrifices of lives really worth it and is every war a necessary evil? Do we truly appreciate our freedoms and the people that fight for our freedom, even people that are not soldiers?” Although in the future he may be able to take back his life despite his traumatic injury, Owen wants to focus on the sad journey before conquering the disability. In a sense Owen was also telling us a story about our lives when we are experiencing our darkest moments and when oppression can become so depressing that it’s unbearable. When we've made sacrifices for others only to get hurt and our own needs or well-being forsaken. Wilfred Owen challenges us to not take our freedoms for granted, to find truth, happiness, and fulfill our destiny at every point of our lives.
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I hope you find this analysis helpful! Tweet me if you any questions.
Dianne Heath said...

Has war directly impact your family?
Can any one relate this poem to a personal crisis that you overcame?

DMP said...

Very nice analysis of the deeper parts of the poem. But doesn't help in school much very much.

Dianne Heath said...


I'm glad you like my analysis. For ethical reasons, I'm glad that it doesn't help with school, lol.
The purpose of the analysis was to send a message about war and hardship such as people doing dangerous jobs sacrificing their physical and mental well being to enable others to live a life in luxury, not give students free answers.

Unknown said...

This was a very well written analysis and gives much thought to a subject that everyday people might not think about. I think it is a tragedy that someone that is supposed to be a hero can be degraded so low and feel so helpless. This poem has changed my outlook on poetry and has sparked my interest in Owen's work along with sassoon. Thank you again for your insightful writing

Dianne Heath said...

@ Unknown

Thank you so much for posting a comment and I'm really glad you enjoy my analysis. I gets quiet out there so sometimes I wonder if it's relating to people.

Even when I wrote this analysis for college a year ago, I didn't realize the depth of this poem. So while I was editing my analysis with a more mature heart, I finally was able to understand the deep sadness this soldier felt. You sum up my analysis perfectly. A tragic hero that experiences a horrible and degrading low point in his life. My outlook on poetry has also changed overtime. Even if the language can be a bit lofty, I realize that's the author's way of poetically telling the audience about life.
I would like to also thank you again for your insightful comment :D

Unknown said...

@ Dianne
its funny that you talked about editing your analysis with a mature heart because i just made the same kind of reference for my critical thinking writing class about seeing poetry different through GROWN eyes and realizing how closed minded i was in the subject. i recently did a essay on the use of the elements of poetry in this poem and also in " Suicide in the Trenches" by Siegfried Sassoon. i hope to continue the study of these great poets.

Dianne Heath said...

@ Unknown

That's pretty cool that we are both sort of achieving our own epiphanies that come with age. If would had understood this poem fully a year ago, I definitely would have saved myself a bunch of trouble, lol. I need to read Suicide in the Trenches. I bet it's really sad :(

Emma said...

hi Dianne, I want to say that I really do like your analysis for this particular poem, I am writing one for school (year 12) at the moment and I was looking to find one on the internet to compare notes (not to steal!) :) and when I read yours I found that I disagreed with some of it! (don't take it personally cause its good! because that means I have AGES to go before I can fully understand the poem as you mention in other commebts!) but I want to say thankyou for this because it makes writing my analysis much easier as I know what I want to write even if it isn't what others might see but it does make my view stronger! So THANKYOU! Love Emma

Dianne Heath said...

@ Emma
I really appreciate the comment!! I definitely don't mind if people disagree. In fact as I get older, I feel tempted to add more thoughts, clarify my position, etc however that's the chaotic aspect to social science and humanities :)I always recommend to question everything that you read and don't be afraid to have a different interpretation, because we all have varied experiences.

Anonymous said...

lovely analysis! helps understand the poem further and deepens the meaning
studying this at school and it does help a lot :)

Anonymous said...

really good and interesting analysis.. i liked the way you structured it differently from the normal essay structure :L

Jeremiah said...

Very Inspirational!

Don't lose the past. said...

Very good analysis. Just one bone to pick: "The war has left him a walking dead man". Hmmmmmm.

Anonymous said...

It was really good!It really helped me to understand the poem!

rob said...

I appreciate what is going on inside this soldiers mind.And the impacts that go with it.How the world looks,feels towards you differently.I am not a fond reader of poetry but for reasons of its own this stands out for me.I actually can feel the whole emotional roller coaster journey with this fine soldier.Thankyou.

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