The Concept Of Guilt In Owen’s Poetry

Owen’s poetry makes strong use of the notion guilt. Owen uses guilt to show the indifference and indifference of his home countrymen as well as those in authority. Although they should feel guilty about sending their children to death, they don’t feel this way. Owen, on one hand, expresses both his and the soldiers’ guilt. Owen is highlighting the mental suffering that soldiers endure as a result of this guilt.

Inspection is a clear example of the theme indifference. While the authorities are aware that soldiers are suffering, they insist that blood isn’t dirt. It is not worth acknowledging that sacrifice. The soldiers’ sacrifice is represented by blood imagery. The sacrifice of the soldiers is described in several places throughout the poem. Because it was the young soldiers that were killed, the authorities continue hiding the sacrifice of the soldiers. This idea is connected to the Ram of Pride’ in The Parable of the Old Man. The Bible’s original story line shows that authorities would prefer to kill ‘half of Europe’ one at a while than surrender their pride. They won’t feel guilty, even though they make soldiers suffer during war. Owen also mentions this combination of false patriotism with national pride. These ideas fuel propaganda, which in turn leads to more soldiers being brainwashed to go to war. Public ignorance is a result of the propaganda. This leads to indifference and indoctrination towards reality. Disabled et Decorum Est is a prime example of war propaganda based false patriotism. Owen gives us clear examples of youth brainwashing to believe that war was glorifying. The poet harshly critiques war poets through their poetry who promote ‘The Old Lie’ in his last work. They should also be guilty, as they were responsible for manipulating Britain’s youth into going to war. Owen’s poetry was an attempt to escape from the war poetry of that time and speak truth through his poetry. However, the authorities also provided propaganda, as Disabled demonstrates. Owen provides us with a list that promotes war, including the ‘jeweled’ kilts/For daggers dressed in plaid socks. This propaganda was one of the reasons youth enlisted. Owen also believes the public was responsible for encouraging them into war. While he was trying to please ‘the silly jilts’, he now feels that these same people encourage him to ‘touch his like a quer disease’. We also see the idea of betrayal or treachery. This is where we feel strong guilt. Owen expands on Owen’s point that the public shouldn’t feel guilty because there isn’t any affection or type connection between those sent to battle and them. This is shown in Disabled and in The Dead-Beat as well S.I.W.

Disabled clearly shows the disconnect between young men and women. The soldiers are disfigured and the former discourage them from going to war. Owen’s work shows how the authorities are unable to feel affection. They will even take in underage soldiers to join them. This also shows that authorities don’t value youth. It is important to feel the guilt. The Send-Off also reveals this and other aspects of the disconnect. This is where the authorities abandon and cut all ties with soldiers. The Dead-Beat is the pinnacle of where there is no affection. The Dead-Beat is the epicenter of lackluster camaraderie. The current state of affairs means that the soldiers are being continued beating around. Even soldiers fighting against the same enemy don’t have any kind of connection. Instead they beat vulnerable soldiers, who are only seen as deadweight and are therefore disposed. They should feel guilty about how they treated their own. In both Owen’s work and Disabled, soldiers are “drafted out with drums, cheers”, glad to be gone, but then return in silence. The Send-Off is a sad example of the lack affection. The women cheer them off, spraying them with wreaths and spraying them. This ironically prefigures their impending death. These women should not be celebrating their deaths, even though they celebrate their departure. But, this propaganda fuels the celebrations.

S.I.W. The guilt of the general public that sets expectations on young men for going to war is also seen in S.I.W. This is also fueled by propaganda that brainwashed young men to join the war effort and encouraged them to recruit. This is the mindset that encourages soldiers to join the ranks of the enemy. The young people of Britain should feel ashamed of their actions, especially the families of those who were the soldiers. They were well aware they were sending them off to war. Although they knew they wouldn’t return, they kept pretending that their soldiers would die for Britain. These soldiers felt guilty for not being able to meet their expectations because of the pressure they were under. This led them to want to die. This guilt was not only displayed in S.I.W. Mental Cases was more revealing.

Mental Cases shows us how soldiers feel guilt. It has two main reasons. Survivor’s guilt as well the guilt for killing are what we see. They feel violated by the things they’ve seen. They feel violated by their actions, and the fact they have stepped on ‘lungs loved laughing’ reminds them of the pain that dead soldiers had to endure. These corpses and body parts were once people, just like the soldiers who fought for freedom. However, their fate was different from that of the soldiers. The poem continually emphasizes this guilt at different points. The capitalization on ‘Dead,’ indicates that they are still suffering from the death they witnessed. The idea of perpetual torment can be seen in the image that both day and night are dominated by thoughts about the dead. They are described as “purgatorial shadows” and are therefore constantly tortured by guilt for their killing. Owen’s work continues the aggravation of the guilt felt by authorities. Readers are also angered when they see and experience the indignities, atrocities, and deaths of soldiers at war. Owen also feels guilty in Mental Cases. This can be seen mostly in Inspection.

Mental Cases Owen uses Owen’s first name to show that he is guilty of inciting the young soldiers into ‘war’ and’madness’. Owen plays the victim and is continually tormented by his guilt. This can be seen by Owen’s’snatching’ or ‘pawing on the dead. These verbs create a feeling of uneasiness in the reader. This is a reflection of Owen’s anxiety when he imagines those soldiers who are blaming Owen for their sufferings. The reader can see Owen’s guilt more clearly in Inspection. While Owen uses the term “us” in his first work, he plays the role of an officer in Inspection. This is the same person who was completely indifferent to the deaths of soldiers and claimed that ‘blood’ was ‘dirt. Owen is now one with the same authorities he had harshly criticized in his other works. As a high-ranking military officer, Owen is responsible for having participated in the slaughter of half of Europe’s seed.

The irony of Owen’s poetry can be appreciated when the whole situation is considered. In pursuing their propaganda, the authorities have made it so clear that those who feel guilty shouldn’t. Those who feel guilty shouldn’t. The image of war and its glory has become so well-known that the public is conditioned to believe it.


  • daisymay

    Daisy May is a 34-year-old blogger and student who is passionate about education. She has been blogging about her educational experiences and tips for other students since 2010. Daisy May is currently studying for her Master's degree in Adult Education.



Daisy May is a 34-year-old blogger and student who is passionate about education. She has been blogging about her educational experiences and tips for other students since 2010. Daisy May is currently studying for her Master's degree in Adult Education.