Suicide in the Trenches by Siegfried Sassoon

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What is the main theme of "Suicide in the Trenches" by Siegfried Sassoon?

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Suicide in the Trenches” by Siegfried Sassoon was written as the author was serving in the military during World War I, and is a commentary on the disparity between the reality of war and society’s perception of it at that time. The poem is short – only three stanzas, all of four lines of iambic tetrameter with a rhyme scheme of aabb, which all combine for an easy read. The poem is blunt and straightforward, without parsing any words or using complicated devices, which drives the meaning home and speaks to the gravity of the subject.

The poem opens with a brief description of a soldier – “a simple…boy/Who grinned at life in empty joy.” A standard youth, one of many just like him recruited to fight for his country on the battlefield. He had no troubles, no fears, nothing to keep him up at night. And yet, in the trenches in the second verse, in winter, in miserable conditions, this same young, happy lad chooses to kill himself rather than endure any more of the suffering. The final line of the second verse comments on this boy’s fate, which mirrors that of countless young lives lost during WWI, forgotten and buried under the war itself – “No one spoke of him again.”  This line is also the only one in the poem to break from the metrical scheme.

The final verse adopts an accusing tone, describing the cheering crowds seeing soldiers off to war as “smug-faced,” full of people who will later “sneak home,” perhaps in furtive guilt, as criminals sneak, to live in blissful ignorance of the ruinous consequences of war, to never know the damage it inflicts upon these young minds and bodies. The poem overall is very bitter and reproachful, lashing out, almost, at the willful ignorance of the general public and the lack of understanding for the evils bred within a war.

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