(page in progress)
The poem ‘The Hero‘ opens with a sensitive presentation of the soldier’s mother. Sassoon offsets her loss with such touching simplicities as ‘she folded up the letter she had read’ . She believes she knows what Jack would have wished for in the depths of his heart and she is moved by the Colonel’s consideration. The sensitive portrayal of this woman’s heart-breaking bereavement and her assertion, that the mothers are proud of their brave sons, is contrasted with the ironically named ‘Brother Officer’. It also however based on what Samuel Johnson might have identified as a ‘consecrated lie’ i.e. it is what the dominant ideology of the period would predispose all mothers of killed soldiers to believe i.e. that their sons would wish for nothing more than to die bravely: the ideological standpoint is that this is what they should have wished for, however one can say that it is a ‘consecrated lie’ to claim that they actually did. From a contextual perspective, the belief that valour in the battlefield is worth more than life itself, and that it is sweet and glorious to lay down one’s life for one’s country, pervaded through all echelons of society – and, to some considerable extent, it still does.
Embedded in the poem is the structural element of a syllogism: i.e. two reasons lead to a conclusion.
R1: All mothers are proud of their dead soldier sons
R2: The soldier, Jack, died.
C: This mother is proud of her son, Jack.
A syllogism, however, is only as true as its reasons. We have already identified R1 to be based on a ‘consecrated lie’ (Samuel Johnson); the officer compounds it by cynically providing ‘gallant lies’ which may serve to ‘nourish her days’. Surely we feel uneasy about this deliberate deception? If some mothers are led to believe that their sons are heroic when they are not, they are being patronised and their right to knowledge, autonomy and truth is being denied by a paternalistic, self-interested military war-machine. This view gains further support in the text where the mother is referred to, with two condescending adjectives, as ‘the poor old dear’.
The full extent of the officer’s deception is seen in the last verse, where the hero ”Jack”, in inverted commas, is ironically contrasted with the officer’s contemptuous ‘truth’ of him being a ‘cold-footed’ coward and ‘swine’. My view is that the caesura in the penultimate line, heralds the poet’s own focus, rather than that of the Brother Officer: note that the poet speaks sympathetically of the mother as ‘lonely’ and is factually descriptive of her ‘white hair’, which is contrasted by (endorsed by the rhyme of ‘hair’ with ‘care’) to the two shockingly callous elements of jack dying ‘at last’ ‘and no one seemed to care’.
(In progress Notes: Features of the poem still to be explored include:
dialogue: the mother’s wordsletter of