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How Masculinity Is Presented In Regeneration - With A Free Essay Review

Explore how Pat Barker explores the theme of masculinity throughout the novel of Regeneration.

Barker presents masculinity as something that cannot be preserved, something which continuously changes. The boundaries between the traditional genders become increasingly blurred towards the end of the novel, as the soldiers begin to doubt their masculinity, which for them, is essential in their identity as men. As well as that, the alteration of masculine gender roles allows men to loosen their emotions, which can be seen through hypnosis in the novel, when men lose the sense of following their heart and mind. One example of altering gender roles with hypnotherapy is seen through emotional expression given by Prior, of which I am going to explore in further detail.

Anderson’s masculinity is being diminished through his obscure dreams. Anderson fearfully recalls dreams about being tied up in female corsets: “They fastened them around my arms and tied the laces.” Dreams are uncontrollable, they are a part of human nature and are formed from our own thoughts and feelings, thus if Anderson dreams about wearing a female corset, his masculinity is definitely being diminished. Also, the agony Anderson suffers, demonstrates a common fear, shared by the patients, of losing any form of masculinity they may have left in them. Anderson continues by questioning Rivers, “I suppose it is possible someone might find being locked up in a loony bin a fairly emasculating experience?” The metaphor of the corset is a powerful one as the corset was often used as a way of controlling women and an obvious feminine symbol. Evidently though, Anderson feels that being 'imprisoned' in a mental hospital is degrading to his gender role, as he would rather doubt his own masculinity in comparison to recognising it as an illness. The colloquial term ‘loony bin’ is disrespectful and therefore shows how he does not recognise his suffering from this condition as an actual illness. Also, the verb ‘suppose’ suggests uncertainty, thereby echoing the uncertainty surrounding their conditions, as mental illness was not recognised by the patients.

The soldiers at Craiglockhart, see emotional repression as a way to retain their masculinity. Nevertheless, using hypnosis contradicts this idea, because it releases their hidden thoughts and feelings in which they try to bury deep, a great distance from Rivers, and themselves. This is shown when Prior states to Rivers, “I don’t think talking helps.” Usually, women are the ones who ‘talk’ in order to release their inner feelings and feel relieved from the outcome of the expression of emotions. However, Prior is aware of that feminised way of expressing feelings and therefore, decides to preserve his masculinity through silence. On the contrary, Prior continues: “It just churns things up and makes them seem more real.” In addition, he is willing to undergo complete physical submission, in order to let his true emotions emerge, and face his painful memories from his past. But is a complete emotional breakdown and loss of masculinity, really beneficial to these soldiers? After Rivers concluded the hypnotherapy, Prior began to cry, allowing Rivers to observe the ‘play of emotion on Prior’s face’. Typically, women are the ones that release their true emotions through the liberation of tears. Barker decides to create a character like Prior who ‘begins butting [Rivers] in the chest’ to demonstrate a typical soldier, whom uses aggression in order to preserve his true masculinity within. Consequently, he feels that the only way to physically comfort himself and maintain his masculinity is to physically hurt Rivers. Moreover, 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. His treatment with hypnosis forces Prior to put aside the masculine gender role. 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 cured from such mental illnesses. Additionally, Barker does this because soldiers could not avoid the war nor change it, although their masculinity would be challenged: either face the war ‘like a true soldier’ and ultimately face death or become mentally ill and question their masculinity.

In Regeneration, Yealland is a clear demonstration of how society of the nineteenth century expected men to behave in war. Notice, using the modal auxiliary verb ‘should’ not only implies how men are expected to act, but alternatively how incompetent they may feel, because of this. Yealland gives a short, attempted speech in order to strengthen Callan through treatment, “A man who has been through so many battles should have better control of himself.” The indefinite article, ‘A’ followed by ‘man’ obviously refers to only men, with no reference to women: therefore highlighting their masculinity of being a traditional, firm man. However, this all changes through the indefinite article ‘A’, when the subject becomes impersonal, thus, resulting in a loss of identity of a true masculine figure as it no longer refers to Callan himself, but all the coward men out there. Again, the modal verb ‘should’ has been used by Yealland to insinuate how the majority of men were cowards and through battle, gradually weakened their masculinity.

Barker uses the form of a novel to show the development of masculinity and how it has decreased along the years. She bases her novel around Craiglockhart hospital which is an unusual scene that had not been explored by authors. This particular choice was made by Barker to reveal to the readers how war shaped the lives of soldiers who managed to survived war. As war continued, their masculinity diminished, echoing how the novel progressed. Masculinity began to decrease and so the men became feminised towards the end, or after the war.

In conclusion, Barker makes it apparent that the patients suffer something universal – they are caught in an intense dilemma between the need to recuperate from the traumas of war and the need to maintain their sense of belonging and identity. She conveys this negativity through the most insignificant acts of the individual fictional characters in the novel, for example, Prior’s his breakdown during hypnosis. Also, male patients were able to divulge these memories by their willingness to undergo hypnosis, which with effect, allowed them to alter the typical masculine role. Hypnosis acquiesced Prior to work through his pain, similar to how it has continued to benefit millions overcome their past, along the years. Though Regeneration is a fictional work, Pat Barker concentrates on maintaining realism to present the crisis men faced during the war. The details that Barker includes, work to build a more realistic image of the time and experiences from the First World War. She does an exceptional job representing the powerlessness that men felt when confronted with the shocking reality of war after being fallen in the trap of propaganda.



The first paragraph does not fully clarify the topic of the paper. It concludes with a sentence that promises, vaguely, "further detail" about "altering gender roles with hypnotherapy." But saying "I am going to explore [X] in further detail" is just giving up the challenge of introducing your topic in a compelling way. To make things clearer all around, you might consider a boring, standard introduction:

1. Introduce your reader to the novel.

2. Identify the theme you’re discussing (emasculation or something else).

3. Clarify your argument (i.e., provide your thesis, if you have one, which you should).

You also mention in your introduction someone called "Prior" but don't say who that is, and then in the next paragraph, you mention someone called "Anderson" without saying who he is. So remember you need to introduce your characters too. Presumably you are working under the assumption that the reader is familiar with the novel, but that's not an appropriate assumption (of course your teacher will have read the novel, but you should be writing for the universe, not just your teacher. You're writing to all of humanity, and possibly to future intelligent machines and aliens, and they'll all want to know who the hell Anderson is. You don't need to (and shouldn't) summarize the novel in order to introduce the characters you want to discuss; just provide a little context: "Anderson, a patient at Craiglockhart hospital, dreams of ..."

Providing a little context, however, doesn't solve the problem of your reader not quite getting why you are suddenly talking about Anderson in your second paragraph. That is to say, there is no transition between your first paragraph, which ends by talking about Prior, and the second, which begins by talking about Anderson. Here's an example of a transition (a thing that reflects on the past and anticipates the future) that would solve that problem: "Let's forget about Prior for now, and talk about Anderson instead." That's an impressively lousy transition, but it's still (just about) better than no transition at all. To judge from the rest of the essay, however, you don't believe in transitions. I'm not a proselytiser but I urge you all the same to change your mind. Transitions are holy. They make essays readable. Sometimes you don't need them if you have a cogently argued essay whose logical form is such that individual claims follow on the heals of each other with the same kind of necessity that is found in the development of a mathematical proof. But your essay is not like that, so use transitions. Again, typically, these are statements that first look back and then look forward. Look at the first sentence of the paragraph I am writing here. The first part of that sentences ("providing a little context") refers to the end of the previous paragraph. The second part of that sentence is introducing a related but new topic.

I've just talked about transitions, so now I'm going to talk about topic sentences. Before doing that, however, let's note that the previous sentence was another (profoundly ugly!) transition. Now the first sentence of this paragraph is also a "topic sentence," since it defines the topic of the paragraph. (As you can see, the first sentence of a paragraph has to do quite a bit of work). Of course there is no point in having a topic sentence if the paragraph does not have a single topic. Your second paragraph has a number of topics: it starts out talking about "diminishing masculinity" and ends up talking about Anderson's disrespectful use of the term "loony bin" and his "uncertainty" as suggested by the word "suppose." I don't find these claims very compelling, but I do think it is great that you try to flesh out the significance of the lines that you cite. What you need also to do, however, is to clarify the ways in which the quotation relates to both the argument of the paper as a whole, and of course to the particular claim, assuming there is one, articulated in topic sentence. So think of the topic sentence as a promise to your reader; and think of the last one or two sentences of a paragraph as an occasion for keeping that promise.

You promise in the next paragraph to discuss how soldiers attempt to repress their emotions in order to retain masculinity, and the way in which hypnosis is used to frustrate that attempt. The paragraph is long and meandering, and the clarity of your point here is also impacted by ambiguous language. When you say, "This is shown ...", for instance, I have no idea what "this" refers to. As a rule of thumb, never use "this" without a substantive (i.e., without specifying what it refers to). Here, however, I think the problem is not just that you forgot to specify the referent, but that there isn't any referent. To judge by the syntax of the previous sentence "This" ought to refer to the way in which hypnosis "contradicts" the way soldiers "see emotional repression." But obviously it makes no sense for “this” to mean that! A little later in the paragraph you refer to Prior's willingness to "undergo complete physical submission" but you don't clarify what you mean by "physical submission" (you go on to talk about hypnotherapy, so if you want to identify that with physical submission, you should make that identification explicit) and you don't clarify how Prior's willingness to submit can be something that he just does "in addition" to refusing to express his feelings (did you mean to say "however" instead of "in addition"?). Bear in mind, then, that readers, if they are like me (and they all are), are easily confused, so take care over the little things: be precise.

Buried in that same paragraph is an articulation, for the first time in the essay, of something that looks like an interpretive claim about the novel, a claim in which you tell me what meaning, or point, or message, or revelation is to be discovered in the novel, instead of a claim that just describes what is going on in the novel:

"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 cured from such mental illnesses."

So now that I've finally found your thesis, I'm going to bring this review to a close with the following brief remarks. Imagine taking the second half of the sentence I've just cited and putting it in your first paragraph in the place of that relatively meaningless and certainly unhelpful sentence about what you are going to "explore in further detail." It might look like this:

"Regeneration is a novel that demonstrates the threat posed to the mental health of soldiers by deeply entrenched masculinist ideologies. The novel shows us that traumatised soldiers must abandon traditional gender roles in order to be cured of their mental illness."

Perhaps that's not the sexiest thesis in the universe, but it is at least the right kind of thesis, in that it should make it clear to the writer what she or he ought to be doing in the subsequent paragraphs; namely, demonstrating the truth of that thesis. If I have a thesis like that, then I know I need to devote one or more paragraphs to showing how the soldiers' stubborn insistence on "being men" is the first problem they need to overcome; and I know I need then to devote one or more paragraphs to the task of demonstrating how relief comes only when that insistence can be overcome. And if I do all of that, then I might be in a position to elaborate my thesis into a general statement about the novel's implicit indictment of masculinist ideology on the basis of its revelation of its dangers.

There I must stop, but if you have any questions, post them in the comments section below. If a question doesn't come to you immediately, but does come eventually, you can still post it, but you might also then email to let us know of the question's existence.

Best, EJ.
Submitted by: catarinax

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