Journey's End Essay - Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

R. C. Sherriff

Further Critical Evaluation of the Work

It was not until 1929, eleven years after the end of World War I, that England had its first memorable “anti-war” play (Sean O’Casey’s THE SILVER TASSIE being Irish) and that one was largely accidental. Robert C. Sherriff, a junior insurance was called upon by his boat club to write an all-male play and he complied with JOURNEY’S END. But, as soon as Sherriff tasted play-writing, he became enthused, abandoned insurance for artistic creativity, and persisted in marketing JOURNEY’S END until it was commercially produced. Once on the boards, it was a tremendous success, both popularly and critically, and Sherriff seemed destined to become one of England’s most important post-war dramatists. Unfortunately, however, he was never able to match his first theatrical achievement.

By contemporary standards the “anti-war” message of JOURNEY’S END is quite muted. Sherriff certainly creates a believable milieu, demonstrates that combat is an unpleasant experience, and points out the insensitivity of those who plan and carry out the war from a distance, using combat troops as mere pawns in a grand design. But the absolute necessity of the war and the correctness of the long-range vision of those who oversee it are never questioned. However meaningless the men’s activities may seem to the contemporary reader, Sherriff leaves no doubt that there is purpose in their sacrifice. War, he suggests, is a necessary evil, and the important thing is to face up to it with intelligence and courage. Thus, the lasting importance of JOURNEY’S END lies not in its rhetoric, but in its dramatic potency and psychological insights.

In spite of its context of combat violence, JOURNEY’S END is, for the most part, a leisurely play. Most of the action occurs offstage, and except for the final moments, the pacing is deliberately slow. The atmosphere in the trenches is one of anxious boredom as the men wait for the big German assault. To escape the tedium and forget the sudden destruction and death hovering about, they indulge in aimless...

(The entire section is 857 words.)