Student Question

What is the significance of similes in the poem "Disabled" by Wilfred Owen?

Quick answer:

Three similes create the ironic contrasts in the poem: The voices of the boys playing in the park are "saddening like a hymn." The girls look at him differently now that he is disabled. He joined the army because he had been told that he would look like a god in kilts.

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As is typical of Wilfred Owen, this "poet's poet" as he once called himself, presents the tragic irony of the ideals  and false promises of patriotism and the realities of war in his poem "Disabled." The tension of this poem comes from the contrast of the disabled veteran who forlornly sits in his wheelchair, feeling how "cold and late it is" and wondering why "they" do not come for him; and, as he passively waits, he recalls how active and virile he was before going to war, holding false ideals and desires.  It is during this reflective interlude that the ironic contrasts are brought forth with figurative language.

Three similes that are employed by Owen to express his theme of the deflowering of the "jewelled hilts," "esprit de corps," "drums and cheers" of chauvinism are as follows:

  1. In the first stanza, Owen describes the voices of the boys playing in the park as ringing "saddening like a hymn." Here Owen compares the youth in their energy and health to a prayer song. The voices of the wholesome and young boys is separated from the man in the "wheeled chair" as though it is a prayer from his lost faith in the glory of war.
  2. In the second stanza, Owen writes that the girls looked at the disabled soldier in one way when he was whole--"glanced lovelier"--but now they "touch him like some queer disease." He is abnormal and somewhat repulsive to the girls.
  3. In the fourth stanza, the disabled veteran reflects upon the past in which he believed the propaganda of chauvinism:

He thought he'd better join.--He wonders why.
Someone had said he'd look [like]a god in kilts.

This is an elliptical simile as the word like is understood, rather than expressed.

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