How does the issue of conformity or nonconformity relate to larger social concerns in The Wars by Timothy Findley?

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The issue of conformity/nonconformity relates to larger social concerns in The Wars by Timothy Findley through the trajectory of the main character, Robert. Before fighting in World War I, Robert is relatively innocent. He's not sexually experienced, and his main occupation is looking after his sister, who’s in a wheelchair.

At first, Robert is somewhat sheltered from the world, which makes it difficult for him to conform to the new norms of the violent, fast-paced culture. He doesn’t seem suited for combat or for the kind of sex life that the soldiers espouse. The awkward encounter with the sex worker named Ella, the sexual assault, and his determination to rescue the horses indicate that Robert doesn’t fit in with the destructive, carnal environment.

In terms of larger social concerns, Robert shows how the standards of society can impact its individuals. The brutality of war can produce brutal individuals, or, in the case of Robert, people who become both physically and psychologically scarred. As Robert’s early death illuminates, individuals are fragile, so perhaps society should treat its subjects with greater care.

In a more general sense, one could talk about how Findley’s presentation of Ella addresses social concerns about sex work. One might think about how Ella’s agency doesn’t conform to a simplistic representation of sex work. One might also discuss how Findley’s depiction of gay sex connects to social concerns about homosexuality. It’s possible to claim that Findley’s portrait of homosexual intercourse conforms to biased tropes that link gay sex and violence.

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