In August, 1918, Lt. Billy Prior is returning to the front after a period of recuperation for "sell shock" and asthma. Even though he is still having asthma attacks and his doctor advises that he should stay away from the front and the gas attacks, he feels that it's his duty to return to the front lines.
William Rivers is the psychologist who tries to help the soldiers at the hospital. We see the men who are afflicted with various ailments and Rivers' optimism and the faith in human spirit as he tries to help.
Rivers speaks to a soldier named Moffet who suffers from emotional paralysis of the legs. When a treatment brings feelings back to the man's legs, Rivers thinks that he's helped only to find Moffet locked in a bathroom attempting to commit suicide. These men were only at the front for a short while and the horror that they've seen was enough to have their minds or bodies shut down in protest. This has a parallel to today's servicemen and woman who are so young and so many of them return from Afghanistan or Iraque with mental or physical issues so that there are more suicides within military than any time in the past.
The author gives us a good image of the upper class and the common soldier during the first world war. There is a difference in the respect and care provided to the officers. In one conversation, Billy relates that a man named Birthwhistle stated, "Of course one can't rely on them. Their values are different than ours. They're a totally different species, ...these W.C.'s" When Rivers is puzzled with the initials, WC, Billy states that this is for Working Class.
Billy also tells Rivers that the W.C.s are men who are getting their bollocks shot off so they can go on being the lilly in the dung heap." It appears that he is saying that this is the means with which the working class will raise their status, by serving in the war and risking their lives.
The novel won the Booker Prize and provides a good phychological profile of the soldiers and their acceptance of orders to go to the front and for so many, sacrifice their lives.
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