In the speech from Billy Bishop goes to War in which Bishop describes seeing his first fighter plane- the vision that made him decide he " wasn't going to die in the mud"- how does the language and imagery of the speech shape our responses and what makes the vision so attractive to Bishop?
(Billy Bishop Goes to War by John Gray)
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Billy Bishop was a fighter even as a young boy, always fighting off the bullies at school. He never excelled at anything and would abandon any task that seemed too difficult to master. His efforts in military school were mediocre and he was caught cheating at one point. He joined a cavalry regiment when war broke out and subsequently, following illness, an infantry division.
Bishop had incredible eyesight, allowing him to hit a distant target when no-one else could. He was unimpressed with his regiment and with the mud in the trenches. Flying had always fascinated him; he had made a cardboard plane at the age of 15 and jumped from the roof of the family home!
Whilst in the trenches he sees a fighter plane returning from duty which had a deep impact on him:
"...it's clean up there! I'll bet you don't get any mud or horse shit on you up there. If you die, at least it would be a clean death."
The plain, simple language defines him which makes the audience warm to him as they get the visual picture of war in the trenches. As always, he is matter-of-fact and this may be one of the few times Billy Bishop is actually pensive, stopping to think and reflect on the possibilities in the sky. As ever, there is a practical side to anything he does - because he isn't "going to die in the mud."
The inevitability of death does not escape Billy and "a clean death" is the most attractive option for him. No solider, or airman, wants to die in the trenches where the body may never even be recognized. A"clean death" also infers that there can be no disputing that a person has been brought down by the enemy, rather than dying from a wound or illness as many men did in the trenches. The repetition of "clean" emphasizes Billy's belief in straight-forward, direct instructions and would especially suit a person who never did well in group settings. The air is "clean" and there can be no mistaking your goal.
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