Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The major theme of Sword of Honour is the impact of World War II upon the English nation. The first part of Men at Arms offers several glimpses of a country essentially at peace with its traditions but already nervously aware that forces beyond its comprehension are propelling it into an uncertain future. The actual outbreak of war brings panic and confusion: The cowardly flee overseas, children are taken from their urban families and evacuated to the country, and those in the military are rushed from one crisis point to another. The dominant images are those of uncertain movement, as everyone knows that he should be doing something but has only vague ideas as to what that something might be.

In Officers and Gentlemen, these essentially uncoordinated movements are brought under control through military training and discipline. Ineffectual and ridiculous though it turns out to be, Trimmer’s raid upon the enemy at least demonstrates a commitment to fighting back; although badly routed in the battle for Crete, the army does learn that it must adopt the kind of training and discipline exemplified by the Halberdiers if it is going to become an effective fighting force. Where Men at Arms depicts the destruction of some of the conventional certainties of English life, Officers and Gentlemen holds up to view a society which is beginning to pull itself together into the kind of social organism capable of functioning under the...

(The entire section is 487 words.)