Graves Use of Documents
Robert Graves depicts the dramatic and somewhat gruesome memories of his days in World War I in his autobiography, Good-bye to All That. Without ever being involved in a war, it is hard to comprehend the horrific and dramatic events that take place. As with any story, it is easier to imagine and understand what occurs when there is evidence to support the narrative. By including letters, articles, and newspaper cuttings, Graves is able to give the reader a better understanding of his war experience.
Extracts from some of Graves letters that he writes in 1915, give the readers a chance to better understand the soldiers lives during the war. These letters are part of a compilation of evidence detailing the everyday activities of the soldiers. Within these letters, Graves creates vivid images of life in the trenches so that the reader can have a clearer picture of what the soldiers are facing. In the letter from May 28th, Graves describes how his ears sang as though there were gnats in them, and a bright scarlet light shone over everything after a shell drops right beside him (112). It is hard to understand how dangerous and terrifying the war is, but with these letters Graves is able to make it a little easier to understand. These letters are very relevant to this book because they bring the reader closer to what Graves goes through in the war. His behavior after the war is the result of what he faces as a soldier. It becomes a part of everyday life to stand over the corpses of fellow soldiers and the site of blood is very common, which he reflects in his gruesome descriptions. In his letter from June 9th, he sees a soldier s cap he had worn splashed with his brains for the first time (114). Graves wants to enlighten the readers about the horrors of life in the trenches, which he achieves by using these letters.
In the May 28th letter he depicts that the parapet of a trench is built up with ammunition-boxes and corpses. Everything here is wet and smelly (111). Although Graves could tell his story without these letters, they make the story more personal and give the reader a clearer picture of life as a soldier.
Graves use of the articles in his autobiography shows the effect the war has on the civilians and some soldiers. The article, A Mother s Answer to A Common Soldier , describes a mother s proud attitude about her son fighting, which seems very disturbing, yet the extracts and press criticisms praise the article. Graves uses this article to show the difficulty of communication with civilians that he and other soldiers were facing because the stories about the war that the civilians know are different from those actually happening (228). It is disturbing because this particular mother degrades her son as a human being by commenting that the women pass on the human ammunition of only sons to fill up the gaps (229). How can she refer to her son as ammunition (229)? This is a result of the civilians not truthfully knowing how the soldiers suffer, because the government doesn t correctly inform them about the vicious fighting that is occurring. The mothers pride is reflected when she mentions the corn that will wave over land watered by the blood of their brave lads (228). Would this sense of pride still exist if she knew what her son was going through everyday?
Finished With the War is an article displaying one soldier s frustration and anger towards the war. Surely other soldiers feel the same way because he says he is a soldier acting on behalf of soldiers (260). Graves includes this article to display how
the war effects the soldiers and that the purpose of the war has disappeared. This soldier has seen and endured the sufferings of the troops and expresses his anger by remarking that he can no longer be a party to prolong these sufferings because he believes they are evil and unjust (260). This article helps show that some believe the government is prolonging the suffering of the soldiers and sacrificing them for a purpose that no longer exists. Graves believes this article, written by a fellow soldier and friend, Siegfried Sassoon, will not make an impression on either side of the war. Although the purpose of the war disappears, it will continue until one side falls apart.
This article also displays a protest of the political errors and insincerities for which the fighting men are being sacrificed (260). By including this article, Graves makes it apparent that he, along with many other soldiers, does not agree with the actions of the government during this war. Graves describes Sassoon as courageous for pointing out these political errors and insincerities , although he agrees with Sassoon completely. Finished With the War reflects the frustration between most of the soldiers and the government, because the soldiers disagree with the suffering of the troops and prolonging the war without any reason to do so.
Graves includes several newspaper cuttings to illustrate the exaggeration and false information that is present during the time of the war. The first cutting from Kolnische Zeitung reports that the church bells were rung after the news of the fall of Antwerp (67). Each cutting is exaggerated a little more while falsely informing the civilians of what happens. In Corriere della Sera they report that some Belgian
priests refused to ring the church bells when Antwerp was taken (67). Graves may be using cynicism to point out how news from the government during the war is exaggerated. Throughout his autobiography, Graves ridicules the government for their repeated false information to the civilians about the war.
Graves use of documents in his autobiography better illustrate various aspects of life in World War I. The letters serve as a source of evidence for Graves story as he describes the horrors and disillusionments of his days in the war. The articles, which are written from two different views of the war, illustrate the effects of the Great War on those involved and the feelings that overcome them because of what they are facing either as a civilian or a soldier. This fatuity of the government during the time of the war is evident through the newspaper cuttings that Graves criticizes because of their exaggeration of the news that is to inform the civilians of what is happening. Although these documents are not pertinent to his autobiography, they emphasize how this war effects those involved and show that the way of life in England would never be the same.