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Disabled by Wilfred Owen: An Analysis

Essay by review  •  June 21, 2011  •  Research Paper  •  1,064 Words (5 Pages)  •  1,671 Views

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“Disabled” : The human cost of war

Wilfred Owen’ s poem “Disabled” was written during his four-month stay at Craiglock-

hart Hospital in 1917. The poem eloquently depicts the disassociation and detachment from self

and society felt by this solider who has become disabled. Owen uses the term “queer” to show

that the soldier’ s losses have made his body alien. These injuries have also removed his social

masculinity.

As I read the poetry of Wilfred Owen, I was often disheartened by his realistic depictions

of military combat. For the poet, the condition of shell shock from which he was suffering during

his stay at Craiglockhart Hospital was an important physical and poetic position for his writing.

Owen wrote in opposition to the war and yet supported the men he served with his poetry by

bringing the discomfort and horror of war to the eyes of the public. Disabled is one of the poems

written during his period at Craiglockhart that develops the disassociation and detachment from

self and society felt by most soldiers.

In the poem, the concept of what the poet terms “queer” implies the alienation caused by

the loss of the soldier’ s legs. In response to the recognition the soldier receives from the

formerly interested “girls,” the speaker notes that “All of them touch him like some queer dis-

ease.” The implications of this line manifests that the injuries of this war have made the male

body strange, unfamiliar, undesirable, and unknowable. Owen further convolutes the image by

revoking the traditional correlation of touch by connecting it with dissociation. The use of the

term “queer” in such prominence demands further investigation of its importance at the time.

While the term “queer” has had a long history in the English language, it has, since the

early twentieth century, acquired new cultural associations which are at work under the surface

of Owen’ s text. �Disabled,’ written in 1917, also partakes in this cultural gray area in semantic

usage, given that the poem was composed near the time of shifting usage. One should also in-

vestigate the associates of Owen and his possible influence, in order to evaluate the semantic

significance. While at Craiglockhart Owen was mentored by Siegfried Sassoon, whom he in

many ways hero-worshipped. Sassoon introduced Owen to Robert Ross, Robert Graves, H.G.

Wells, and Arnold Bennett. Robert Graves in the first edition of his autobiography, Goodbye To

All That: An Autobiography, described Owen as homosexual. The lines were later excised from

the text(“Wilfred Owen”). Whether the statement was true or not we should not be read abso-

lutely into the poem’ s “queer disease.” However it would be a mistake to ignore its potential for

structuring the poem’ s notion of sexuality and emasculation. Whatever its absolute meaning may

have been, the use of the concept in the poem makes one more aware of oppression in a society

that has brought the soldier to this state. Society has made him what he has become. For the poet,

the notion of queerness is connected not just with the loss of potential heterosexual contact but

also with the greater notion of the “lie” that has created him in this particular image.

In the first segment, the poet sets the stage for understanding this alienated figure that he

observes. Described as “waiting for the dark” and clad in a “ghastly suit of grey”, one senses the

isolation that injured soldier represents.

The second segment imagines the life of the soldier before the injury with which “he

threw away his knees.” What is the ultimate cost of war? Is it death or is the injury that leaves a

man disadvantaged and disassociated. Now as young girls “touch” him, they have assigned him

an identity “like some queer disease.” The touch itself redefines his nature and renders him

emasculated.

The third segment continues

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