Pip Thompson, the protagonist, the lone upper-middle-class recruit among working-class conscripts. He resists the efforts of the officers to enlist him as one of them. His hatred of the class system was catalyzed one day by an accidental experience in a dirty East End café; its tea-stained menu, written in a beautifully foreign hand, read “Chips With Everything.” Pip is both envied and criticized as a snob by his fellow draftees. Even the officers regard his sympathy with the working class as a perverse form of snobbery. His revulsion to killing is displayed in his temporary defiance of an order to participate in bayonet practice. Both his rebellion and his leadership ability are evident in a carefully planned and successfully executed raid on a nearby coke pile, undertaken to keep the hut warm. In the surprise ending that evoked ambivalent responses from critics, Pip suddenly dons an officer’s uniform. His joining ranks with the “other side,” however, is not meant to draw on his middle-class privilege but is instead precipitated by the impending arrest of the entire hut for the men’s refusal of an order to take a runaway (Smiler) to the guard room. Pip’s new authority allows him to override the Pilot Officer’s command to imprison the men. He does so in the name of loyalty—his and the men’s—to a higher responsibility in which understanding of the need to protect a fellow serviceman, in this case the much-abused Smiler, is accommodated.
Smiler Washington, a homesick recruit identified by the perpetual smile with which he was born and cannot erase. He becomes the major butt of criticism from his superiors as each one of them commands him to wipe the smile from his face, something he cannot do. Because the “bastards” will not believe him, he reaches a...
(The entire section is 768 words.)