|Pat Barker's Regeneration|
"Charlie Chaplin: The Booster of Morale During WWI"
Taureeq Bradley (Spring 2003)
Pat Barker's Regeneration represents a part of history for the First World War. Regeneration is an antiwar novel held together by people, places, and cultural references. Charlie Chaplin is a cultural reference used within the novel. Barker refers to Chaplin on page 60 in the novel. When the wounded and dysfunctional soldiers watch a Charlie Chaplin film at the Craiglockhart War Hospital. During the war Charlie Chaplin films were therapeutic for the soldiers, and showing one of his films helps develop the theme of therapy that occurs throughout the novel. Even though Chaplin was unable to participate in the war, he helped boost the morale of the soldiers that were in it. Barker utilizes Chaplin as a cultural reference to show that good morale is needed to help the progress of the patient's therapy, but true recovery takes more than just a film.
Charlie Chaplin faced public backlash with his stance on World War I. In The Importance of Charlie Chaplin, Arthur Diamond says, "a British citizen had chosen not to leave the United States to fight for his native country" (58). Chaplin's actions caused British audiences to have mixed feelings about him. They loved his films, but disapproved of his non-participation in the war. However, British representatives said that Chaplin was more valuable as an entertainer than an infantryman (Diamond 58). So while the public disagreed with his non-participation, the British government backed him up.
In early 1917, the United States knew that Chaplin was a British citizen living in the U.S. and that Chaplin was part of the support system for their side. However, their attitude changed when the United States entered the war after the Germans sank three American merchant ships. Diamond says, "in came a shower of letters expressing disappointment, anger, and hostility towards Chaplin and his non-fighting status" (59).
After the downpour of letters Chaplin wanted to show that he wanted to be a man of the world, a soldier, so he decided to show his loyalty to the United States by going to sign up at a recruiting office. According to Tony Napolo, Chaplin declared, "I am willing to answer to call of my country" (Napolo 45). After all of the public backlash Chaplin received, the U.S. recruiters told him he was underweight and not fit to be a soldier (Napolo 45). While he was unable to participate in the war, Chaplin decided to make films about the war to show his support.
In 1918, Chaplin released Shoulder Arms, a film where he plays a soldier who is drafted into the Army. While in the film he disguises himself as a tree and knocks out enemy soldiers with his branches. In the book British Culture and the First World War, George Robb says Chaplin "endures the rigors of boot camp, bumbles his way across the Western Front and in the end manages to capture the Kaiser in the film" (168). Chaplin's lack of seriousness and his humor was appealing to the soldiers. He helped boost their morale to get them through the trying times of the war, so watching Chaplin films became their therapy.
The reference to the Charlie Chaplin film in Regeneration affects the reader's interpretation of the scene. In the scene from pages 60-62, readers are forced to look at Prior's current situation of flashbacks and memories from the front alongside the laughter from those who are watching the Chaplin film. In the scene, all of the patients are on the first floor watching a Charlie Chaplin film, while Prior is sitting in the window. Dr. Rivers asks Prior if he wants to watch the film. While peering out of the window Prior starts rambling on and he begins to breathe heavily. Prior has chosen to separate himself from the others, as though he is looking for another form of therapy from Dr. Rivers. On page 64, Prior suggests that he is pathetic, because he wants to impress Dr. Rivers. Prior wants to open up to Rivers, but he wants to see him in a fatherly image. For example, Prior suggests that "I suppose most of them turn you into daddy, don't they?" This quote suggests that Prior is seeking therapy from a paternal figure, which is different from the therapy that the other patients are getting out of watching Charlie Chaplin. While the other patients watch Chaplin's humorous films to take them away from the problems that they have, Prior's isolation indicates that his problems are much deeper than the other patients, which require than just a film to help him get better.
In Regeneration, Charlie Chaplin films are seen as a form of therapy used to keep up the soldiers' morale. The reference to Charlie Chaplin helps to develop the theme of therapy and morale, because the soldiers enjoyed his films. The Chaplin films made the patients laugh when times were bad for them. Barker used Chaplin as a cultural reference to show that the films were therapeutic. However, she also shows that there is more to therapy then just laughing at a film. While the other patients attend the cinema as a form of therapy, Rivers tries to encourage Prior to step away from what he was going through. River felt that if he were able to get Prior to talk about his time in France, that he would overcome some of his fears. However, "Rivers noticed that Prior's face lit up as he quoted the poem" (66). There was a breakthrough in their therapy session. Prior told Rivers that he once loved the poem that he recited. And something gave him a charge and a boost in morale. This was the type of progress that Rivers was looking to accomplish in their sessions. While Dr. Rivers wanted him to get well like the others, not just to go back to war, but also to heal whatever wounds that existed before the war. Therefore, the cultural reference to Chaplin contributes to the theme of therapy; by showing that the film can be used to boost morale. At the same time, Barker shows the readers that patients need more than film to recover by looking at the breakthrough that Prior had in his therapy sessions with Dr. Rivers.
Charlie Chaplin's irreverent humor plays a big role in developing the theme in Regeneration. Without his comedy, many of the patients at Craiglockhart War Hospital would not have been able to look past and overcome the real aspects of the war. Chaplin found a way to make his audience laugh when they were filled with horror, and he opened the minds of the soldiers, which had once been closed like a shell.
Barker, Pat. Regeneration. New York: Plume, 2003.
"Charlie Chaplin Goes to War: Shoulder Arms." Center for History and New Media. 23 April 2003. <http://chnm.gmu.edu/features/episodes/chaplin.html>
Diamond, Arthur. The Importance of Charlie Chaplin. San Diego: Lucent Books, 1995
Napolo, Tony, ed. Our Century: 1910-1920. Milwaukee: Gareth Stevens Pub., 1993
Robb, George. British Culture and the First World War. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002