Pat Barker's Regeneration
Critical Contexts

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"Gender Roles and Hypnosis"

Hanna Patterson (Spring 2004)

Pat Barker's Regeneration explores the internal struggles of WWI soldiers, and their attempts to overcome the trauma of war experiences. One way in which soldiers were treated for psychological trauma was with hypnosis. Hypnosis is introduced to the reader on page 51. In this particular scene, Billy Prior is attempting to convince Dr. Rivers of his specific need for hypnotherapy, in order to recall his repressed memories. By recovering these painful memories through hypnosis, Barker's male patients find themselves able to embrace emotions rather than repress them. Prior is one particular example of the need to alter masculine gender roles in order to embrace emotions and be healed, a theme present in Regeneration.

Hypnosis is derived from the Greek word hypnos, which means sleep ("Hypnotism"). However, the patient does not sleep during hypnosis. It has been described as a therapeutic method, which uses the "technique of inducement of trance, which is a state of semi-conscious relaxation, at the same time maintaining sensory contact with the environment" (Bernik). Hypnosis can produce various levels of perception, increased memory, increased attention and motor functions, and "higher intellectual functions" (Bernik).

Historically there have been many uses for hypnosis, as David Deegan describes. The most general is to relieve all types of physical pain. During hypnosis, many patients have described their physical pain as feeling closer to a warming sensation. Another use involves the treatment of diseases such as asthma and irritable colon. Hypnosis can also be used to control various impulses that can contribute to anorexia, obesity, chemical addictions, and sexual impulses. Finally, hypnosis can be used to treat phobias such as panic disorder and anxiety. It was widely used in this manner in WWI due to a shortage of psychiatrists, mostly for the treatment of physical pain, itching, anxiety, and the "restoring of repressed traumatic experiences which could them be dealt with and understood, helping soldiers come to terms with dreadful events" (Deegan). Coming to terms with traumatic events through hypnosis is a positive consequence of restoring memory.

Barker first refers to hypnosis and its assistance in restoring memory on page 51, where hypnosis represents proof of Prior's desire to be healed. Prior is arguing that he does in fact want to get better, but he does not agree with Rivers' psychoanalytic treatment. He claims he does not remember the latter part of his service in France, and he wants Rivers to try hypnosis so that he can recall his repressed memories. Rivers is hesitant to use hypnosis on Prior, claiming that he only uses it "as a last resort" (Barker 52). Prior appears to be willing to allow himself to be cured, because he then cooperates with Rivers by telling him about the events that led up to his memory loss. It appears that there is some bargaining occurring here. Prior is illustrating his willingness to get better so that Rivers will in turn provide the hypnosis. Rivers does eventually perform hypnosis on Prior, but not in this particular scene. Therefore, the consequences of Prior's hypnosis cannot yet be determined. We only know that he does want to be healed, and he is prepared to embrace his emotions in order to be healed.

The alteration of masculine gender roles allows men to embrace their emotions, which can be seen through hypnosis. One particular example of altering gender roles with hypnotherapy is seen through emotional expression. The soldiers in Regeneration see emotional repression as equal to their manliness, as well as the lack of physical contact for the purpose of comfort. Using hypnosis contradicts this idea because it releases hidden thoughts and feelings. This particular release of thoughts and feelings is shown on page 51, where Prior tells Rivers, "I don't think talking helps. It just churns things up and makes them seem more real." He is not willing to express emotion to Rivers in a fully conscious state, but he is in fact willing to undergo complete physical submission in order to let his true emotions emerge, and face his painful memories. Rivers then wonders if this particular consequence outweighs the benefits of hypnosis. Is a complete emotional breakdown and loss of masculinity really beneficial to these soldiers? After the hypnotherapy concludes, Prior begins to cry, allowing Rivers to see him consciously expressing emotion. Prior then proceeds to seize Rivers' arms and begins butting him in the chest (Barker 104). Although Rivers says that it felt like an attack, he realizes that Prior's aggression is the only way that Prior could ask for physical contact (Barker 104). Prior's response shows that he is struggling to hold onto his manliness, because he is not able to hug Rivers or allow himself to be held. Consequently, he feels that the only way to physically comfort himself and maintain his masculinity is to grab Rivers and slightly hurt him. His treatment with hypnosis forces Prior to put aside the masculine gender role, in this case being unemotional masculinity. This form of complete submission to emotions, achieved through hypnosis, is one particular example of how men must alter their masculine gender role in order to be healed.

Another example of altering gender roles with hypnotherapy is seen through the partial loss of the patient's control of his conscious self. Prior's hypnosis, in a sense, allows Rivers to be in complete control of him. Rivers actually warns Prior of this consequence when he says, "Generally, when a doctor suggests hypnosis, the patient's quite nervous, because he feels he'll be. . . putting himself in somebody else's power" (Barker 52). He also says that there is a fear that the therapist can make the patient do anything, no matter how ridiculous or immoral it may be (Barker 101). Because the patient is in a semi-conscious state, he has less control over what he tells the doctor. However, hypnotized people can resist suggestions from a doctor, and can distinguish between right and wrong ("Hypnotism"). Prior's loss of control allows him to inform Rivers of the day when he lost two of his men to the blow of a shell, and he was forced to shovel human remains into a bag, including a solitary eyeball he managed to pick up. Although Prior's loss of control caused him to recall a disturbing memory, it also allowed him to understand that his breakdown was not caused by this single event. Rivers explains that it could be attributed to "Weeks and months of stress in a situation where you can't get away from it" (Barker 105). He is also able to realize that anyone, no matter how strong they appear to be, can break down if there is an extreme amount of pressure involved. Therefore, Prior was able to accept his repressed memory and begin to work through it by allowing Rivers to have selected control. He was able to put aside the idea that in order to be masculine, men must be in total control at all times.

Hypnosis is very important to understanding Regeneration. The treatment of Prior through hypnosis allows the reader to see just how traumatic the war was for the characters in the novel. Many of the traumatic experiences were found only in the form of a repressed memory, and hypnosis was a crucial tool in discovering the hidden memories. Although repressed memories can be extremely horrific and painful, unveiling them allows the patient to face the past and understand why they subconsciously chose to file it away. Male patients were able to unveil these memories by their willingness to undergo hypnosis, which in turn allowed them to alter the typical masculine gender role. Hypnosis allowed Prior to work though his pain, just as it has continued to help millions of people overcome their past throughout the years.

Works Cited

Barker, Pat. Regeneration. New York: Plume, 2003.

Bernik, Vladamir. "Hypnosis: From Myths to Reality." 8 Apr. 2004 <>

Deegan, David. "History of Hypnosis." 17 Apr. 2004. <>.

"Hypnotism: A Scientific Intelligence." 17 Apr. 2004. <>.

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