In the poem Disabled by Wilfred Owen, how would you analyze the text from a Marxist critical approach?

1 Answer | Add Yours

huntress's profile pic

huntress | College Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

Posted on

Marxist criticism isn't, as it seems, taking a socialist view of the text; rather, it views the text as political and social commentary, asking questions about how class is reflected, what it says about oppression, and statements it makes about social conflicts. 

"Disabled," by Wilfred Owen, was penned during World War I, a war renowned for the stupidity and abuse of power rampant among its leaders. The poem speaks of a young man who lied about his age to enlist: "Smiling they wrote his lie: aged nineteen years" (line 29). This means he was probably 17 or 18, a handsome, athletic young man who was accustomed to being the "hero" of the football field when, "After the matches [he was] carried shoulder-high" (22). 

The commentary about the powers that be lies in how he is treated at the VA facility where he lives now, but chronologically begins with the half-truths he is told to entice him to enlist, where the focus is not on the reality of war and the likely outcome of pitting his body against the firepower of the Germans, but on the intangibles and shiny things historically used by governments to entice young men to pledge their lives in hopes of being heroes. He focused on the handful of pleasant, "cool" things associated with service: "jeweled hilts," "daggers," leave, pay, the intangible "esprit de corps" and "hints for young recruits"--the "brotherhood" of the shared experience of service (32-6). 

Of course, as a young man, he also did it to "please the giddy jilts" (27)--that is, capricious women, like his Meg, because "he'd look a god in kilts" (25). 

Owen suggests that none of these are good reasons for joining the army, particularly since the young man didn't even have a good grasp of what the war was about: 

Germans he scarcely thought of, all their guilt,
And Austria's, did not move him. (30-1)
And now that he has spent his young, become an old man while he's yet young, his country has placed what is left of his body in a wheelchair--he's lost an arm and his legs--and he lives in a VA facility where he is virtually helpless and waits for the nurses to care for him. He sits "shiver[ing]" (2) as he waits for a nurse to help him to a warmer room; all women now touch him "like some queer disease" (13). When he came home, "Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal" (37), suggesting that the cheering was halfhearted, and not all-encompassing. He was cheered on his way to war, but now that he's broken and a ward of the state, the state has pushed him out of sight and out of mind. At the end of the poem, his plight--and Owens' indictment of the VA system--is reiterated: "How cold and late it is! Why don't they come / And put him into bed? Why don't they come?" (45-6). 
 
I use the term "VA system" as I'm American and that is my term for it. America's VA system is presumably more modern than Britain's was then, and still, there are innumerable wounded vets who suffer the same treatment as Owens' young man in the poem. The social commentary here is that the government--those in power--are perfectly willing to emphasize happy half-truths (and half-truths are lies) to get your support but are just as willing to ignore and neglect you when you've given your all. 

We’ve answered 318,955 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question