Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

It is an oversimplification of Findley’s book to discuss only one theme, but the title, The Wars, indicates that he is interested in linking Ross’s experience in World War I with all the other wars nations send youths to fight, each more destructive, each one’s widening holocausts including ever more soldiers, civilians, and territory. The silent Indians of Canada passed by Ross’s train testify to this, as do the other types of wars—between sexes and within families. The primary comment, however, is on the nature of humanity, the main causers and actors in wars. As the narrator points out, each war seems to produce a new doomsday weapon—here, the flamethrower; each time, men deny that any man would invent such a weapon, much less use it against other men: Then it is employed. History proves the truth of the concept but omits discussing the ultimate question posed by such inventions: What does this say about the nature of mankind? This is the primary question addressed by Findley here.

Ironically, the war to save civilization reveals how very thin is its veneer. Findley, however, dismisses fashionable pessimism. While his chronicle of the horrors of war is unsparing, he insists on the human potential for good, even in this worst possible milieu. There is the nurse, offering the grace of an easy death to Ross, and his refusal; the German sniper who does not fire on Ross or his men; Ross’s burning of his sister Rowena’s picture after...

(The entire section is 529 words.)