Analyze the character of Billy Bishop himself and discuss the transformations he undergoes in the play Billy Bishop Goes to War by John Gray. Identify how, where, and why the audience's sympathy...

Analyze the character of Billy Bishop himself and discuss the transformations he undergoes in the play Billy Bishop Goes to War by John Gray. Identify how, where, and why the audience's sympathy towards him may shift.

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In Billy Bishop Goes to War, the audience is introduced to a lively character, somewhat flippant. He endears himself to the audience as there is a real boyishness in his personality that is somehow charming. The way that he relates his stories - as if in real-time - adds to the atmosphere created on a stage of very few props and cardboard aeroplanes.

Bishop is a down-to-earth character who seemingly gives detailed accounts of his exploits. A person can allow for a degree of poetic licence in the retelling of these stories in order to emphasize the depth of an event. Without any visual props how else will an audience understand his reluctance to join the "Great war,"the extent of the "mud" and the thrill of "tumbling him" (referring to downing a plane). "Iwin! I win!" Bishop's intense purpose is confirmed as he repeatedly foils his enemy.

It is clear that Bishop is still finding his true calling, since that wistful day when he spotted a plane from the trenches but even when he becomes a pilot he is almost thrown out of the corps for crashing his plane. As ever, timing is everything and this unlikely hero manages to down his first plane.

Billy's increasing abilities as an airman change him and he becomes quite a celebrity amongst his peers. His hesitation to join legendary pilot Albert Ball in a joint mission may seem arrogant and some of Billy's charm is lost. His decision to attempt the mission alone - after Ball's death - indicates that he does feel that he is invincible, not phased by Ball's death or maybe inspired by it. It is the prospect of the thrill that gets him every time and the audience must decide whether he is to be admired for his bravery or pitied for his blatant disregard for his own safety.

Even at the end, when Billy reflects on the "war to end all wars" and his belief that his own children would never be in this position at the start of WWII, he cannot help himself and, instead of continuing a message of caution, restraint and safety, he shows that he has not really changed that much as "It was a hell of a time."  

     

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