How crucial are the corpsmen in the play?

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M.P. Ossa | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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In Fernando Arrabal's play "Picnic on the Battlefield" we find the characters of Mr. and Mrs. Tepan entering the battlefield to propose a picnic to their son Zapo. As the battle increases with no effect on the parents' picnic, they encounter Zepo, an enemy fighter with no clue as to why he is an enemy in the first place. They invite Zepo in but bombs begin to land everywhere around them, making Zapo and Zepo run away to escape harm.

This is the part of the story when the Red Cross corpsmen enter with the hopes of finding dead bodies from the bombing. They are disappointed to find out that there are no dead bodies, and they are especially sad because they will have no news to bring to their command center, nor bodies to brag about. To make it even more funny, Zapos parents introduce themselves and the mother even says sorry for not being dead and pleasing them with two warm bodies.

The crucial aspect of this is that the corpsmen represent the sadistic aspect of war: Bodies are trophies, and sentiment is nonexistent. They are like pre-programmed zombies that act upon what they are told to do without questioning. They are blind, and they may have no clue why they do what they do.

After the final bombing kills every character (except the corpsmen) i the play, they come back with a stretcher, showing that only the men are worth recovering during battle, namely, the soldiers. There will be no stretcher for Mrs. Tepan: She is of no importance and the corpse men pick up the bodies of those who perished with no emotion at all.

That, in essence is the message that Arrabal wants to send in this play. How war is so nonsense that it becomes a ridiculous game of ego where nobody wins. The corpsmen show how disposable is the human body, and how easily replaceble we are.