Wilfred Owen was an English WWI soldier and poet. He is considered one of the leading poets of WWI, as his use of distinctive techniques allowed him to show the reader of his work the horrors of the war. Owen used his poetry to put across his message that he was completely against war and he was disgusted with the treatment of soldiers that served in the war. Dehumanisation is an outstanding theme in Owen’s work. The dehumanisation of the soldiers involved in war is shown through many poetic devices that Owen uses. He uses these devices to show that the soldiers were not treated like humans, but as objects. These poems that Owen was writing were read by people back in the UK and they would be shocked and horrified with what they had read. This is what Owen wanted so the war could come to an end.
‘Arms and the Boy’ was the first poem written by Owen during the war. Straight away we can see a theme of dehumanisation in the poem as ‘Arms’ comes before ‘Boys’ in the title. This was Owens way of starting the poem with the idea that the soldier was dehumanised and less important than the weapons in the war. The young soldier in the poem is not made for war, as Owen uses a religious theme at the end of the poem. He says that God will not ‘grow no talons at his heels’ or grow ‘antlers through the thickness of his curls.’ This is suggesting that humans aren’t built for war, and God has not give humans attributes to fight in battles. As humans don’t have natural weapons like ‘antlers’, unnatural weapons like guns are created. Owen likes to personify in many of his poems and he personifies the bayonet to give it human attributes. He says the bayonet has a ‘hunger or blood’ as though the weapon can think for itself. The soldier could be turning into a weapon or a killing machine also. Owen uses words such as ‘flesh’ and ‘blood’ while also using alliteration of the letters b and f which gives the sense of the soldier only thinking about blood and flesh, no longer thinking about anything but killing.
‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ is a very similar poem to ‘Arms and the Boy’ as Owen uses the same techniques to portray his thoughts of war. He again uses the title of the poem to show how the soldiers were dehumanised and not thought of. ‘Anthem’ gives the impression of a national anthem or a religious song. They often express joy. No joy is expressed in this poem though. Owen shows dehumanisation again with his line ‘what passing-bells for these who die as cattle?’ This suggests that the soldiers were like cattle getting slaughtered for food in the war. The soldier’s fate was decided in the battlefield like a cattle’s would be when they are ready to get slaughtered. Owen questions why there was no proper funeral for each soldier that had died. The soldiers had suffered in the trenches and not even received a proper funeral, which angers Owen.
‘The Last Laugh’ is about Owen seeing three separate deaths while fighting in the war. Owen uses personification to make the weapons much more stronger and powerful than each of the soldiers. The weapons laugh and tease each of the soldiers as they are showing that they are stronger. In my opinion, the weapons are thought of as more important in the war than the soldiers, as the weapons were thought of as the difference between winning and losing the war. This is why the soldiers were dehumanised and didn’t receive full recognition for their bravery. Onomatopoeia is used also in this poem so we can hear the noises that the weapons use when they are killing the soldiers. ‘hooted’, ‘groaned’ and ‘hissed’ give the sense of these weapons laughing at the soldiers weak attempts to stay alive.
‘Disabled’ is a poem about a soldier who returns from the war with horrific injuries. This is a prime example of Owens theme of dehumanisation as this young soldier was once a handsome man who used to go to town and dance with girls, but now isn’t even looked upon by girls unless its pity. This poem shows how this young soldier is now dehumanised and isn’t considered a part of society anymore. He enjoyed playing football and didn’t mind getting ‘bloodsmear’ down ‘his leg’ from playing it, he was proud of this ‘bloodsmear’ as he had thought he gained it from this battleground that was the football pitch. He was also ‘carried shoulder-high’ after games thanks to his heroics on a football field. This can possibly contrast to the multiple amputations he suffered. He does care about this and he isn’t proud of it because he cannot enjoy the things he used to enjoy. He also doesn’t get carried around and get celebrated as a hero coming off a battle field, possibly because he can’t physically get carried around, or the fact he now looks like a ‘queer disease’ to other people. When he came back from the war, few people came to greet him compared to the amount of people that were present for the send off. This is what Owen is upset with, as this person doesn’t get any recognition, like most soldiers. This soldier has come back from war with limbs missing and he is now seen as a second class citizen, like some ‘queer disease’.
In conclusion, my feelings towards the poem are that the theme of dehumanisation is of great importance throughout Owen’s poetry and it is a centre point of his work. This is his reason as to why he is against war and he doesn’t like the treatment of soldiers. Dehumanisation is a common theme throughout his poetry and he uses poetic devices such as personification to address this. Using poetic devices helps the reader understand what Owen is trying to say about war.