The Values Of A Narrator Essay, Research Paper
(Essay regarding novel Generals Die In Bed for Engl 101 – Final Grade B+)
The thoughts and actions of the narrator in a novel can offer the reader unique insight into the narrator’s personal values. In the novel Generals Die in Bed, by Charles Yale Harrison, the narrator reveals his personal values through both his actions and his commentary on the war around him. The narrator values education and knowledge, life and humanity, as well as charity and compassion. Although he sometimes does not act upon these values, he restates them many times and eventually finds they are a part of his personality and embraces them as such in the end.
The narrator of Generals Die In Bed establishes his value of education early in the novel. He reveals to the reader part of his education background and implies his interest in literature in a conversation with his fellow soldiers. They discuss the minenwerfer bombardment they experienced during their first night in the trenches. Cleary emphasizes his fear through hyperbole by saying he “thought [he] was dead a dozen times.” In response to this the narrator quotes Oscar Wilde: “He who lives more lives than one, more deaths than one most die.” His comrades do not know what he has alluded to and as he begins to explain and stress the “scandalous features” of Wilde’s story, he finds his words “sound hollow and flat”. The narrator also repeats an epigram that “once sounded so sparkling in [his] high-school days.” Both these phrases illustrate the dark, dreary life in the trench and stress the uselessness of his value of education in war through metaphor. His colleagues also do not pay attention to his explanation; Fry even “closes his eyes and turns his head away” afterwards (28-29). After this point the narrator does not mention his education or quote any literature. Instead as the war progresses he finds he prefers not to “seek for answers” and compares himself to a thoughtless beast through simile by noting he would rather “live like an unreasoning animal” (129).
In Generals Die In Bed the narrator reveals his value of human life. He first notes the Canadian soldiers ?never refer to the Germans as [their] enemy? showing they do not want to kill Germans no more than the Germans want to kill Canadians, ironic since they are both trained to do so (44). This is contrasted during the raid when he must kill a German or be killed in the trench. He later reflects upon his actions and why he was ?terrified? when he thought about the man he killed (129). He even refers to himself as a ?criminal? and tells Gladys he once ?committed murder? in reference to the event (169). While he contemplates his terror he also wonders why he stood ?frozen? when he was told Cleary was dying (129). This metaphor as well as the simile used when he ponders why he felt ?as though [his] insides were being forced up through [his] throat as [he] watched him die? display his disgust at the loss of life (130).
The narrator values compassion above all in Generals Die in Bed. He repeatedly expresses this value through his generous help of others throughout the novel. When the soldiers first reach the trenches, Fry has trouble keeping up with the group and the narrator and Brown “fish” him out of a water-filled hole (15). The narrator later crawls “with great effort” over to Fry while they are under attack because Fry is “half covered with earth and debris” and begins to dig him out despite his fear (25). Later on during the raid on the German lines he is the only raider to return with prisoners. He also asks his Colonel that the prisoners “be treated nicely”, which is ironic as he recently killed one prisoner?s brother (122). Next the narrator finds himself metaphorically “attached” to a new recruit after his leave (179). Before the Canadian attack on the German lines he ?feel[s] sorry” for the recruit and asks the recruit to “stay with [him]” for the duration of the attack (183).
The narrator does not always follow his values during the novel. During a retreat he leaves Fry wounded on the battlefield, even though Fry screams ?Don?t leave me here alone? (201). The narrator also takes part in ?avenging? the Llandovery Castle; he helps kill unarmed Germans at Amiens (255). Despite this, in the end of the novel the narrator embraces his values once again. When he is wounded on the battlefield he does not “forsake” Broadbent, who is mortally wounded, and “reassure[s]” him (263).
The narrator of Generals Die in Bed imparts his values upon the reader throughout the novel. Despite brief respites from these values, he manages to hold true to his value of learning, life, and commiseration in the end.
Harrison, Charles Yale. Generals Die in Bed. 1930.
Waterdown: Potlach Publications, 1999.