Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 427
To dramatize the terrible consequences of war, “Disabled” presents an ironic contrast between a strong-limbed, handsome youth eager to be a hero in battle and the wrecked body in a wheelchair that the man becomes as a result of being horribly wounded. In the first stanza, the voices of boys playing in the park can only sound sad to the disabled veteran, who feels the painful difference between their freedom and his forced immobility.
The next two stanzas bring memories of what a physically attractive young man the veteran had been. Only the year before, he seemed so very young, “younger than his youth” in terms of innocence and inexperience. Now, suddenly, he is old with a terrible wisdom, having learned of the destruction that war can do to the body. By saying that he “threw away his knees,” Owen emphasizes the carelessness with which the young man went to war, not giving a thought to the mutilation that might befall him. As a result of his injuries, women are now loath to touch him, as if his wounds were somehow contagious like a “queer disease.” Owen makes an ironic reference to love poetry when he describes blood from the man’s leg as a “leap of purple” that “spurted from his thigh.” This spurting is not the sign of a virile young man’s love. War is not the place where he proves his manhood; it is where he loses it.
Ironically, as the fourth stanza reveals, the young man seems to have gone to war in hope of winning the approval and admiration of women. Owen’s description of these women as “giddy jilts” implies some anger toward young females who would get excited at the thought of a man in army uniform, then flee from him in fear when he returns wounded from the war. A further irony in this stanza has to do with the very real difference between violence in sports and the violation of war, a difference that the young man did not understand until he discovered it the hard way. He had considered a bloody leg to be a sign of pride, proof that he had played a fierce game of football, having used his body to its full potential. Yet war is not, as he thought, another game; rather than developing his body, war causes it irreparable damage. Owen uses this poem to warn future young people that war is not fair or fun like football: It is a “game” in which what is lost can never be regained.