Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen

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Dulce et Decorum Est Characters

The Soldiers

The poem begins with a vivid and disturbing image of men, including the speaker, moving through the trenches:

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge . . .

Later, we read that “Men marched asleep” and are “Drunk with fatigue” while gas shells fall all around them. They are so tired that they are hardly paying attention to the potential danger they find themselves in. There is a clear impression that these men are struggling, exhausted, dirty, and cold. The conditions are far from heroic or glamorous, as some have tried to depict war. Owen is interested in showing the grim daily reality for those involved firsthand in war.

The characters are all unnamed and are not described individually, for the most part. Without names or identifying features, these soldiers represent each and every soldier involved in war. The anonymous nature of death in war is thus explored through this depiction of unknown young men fighting for their country.

The Soldier Who Dies 

There is, however, one soldier who is singled out for description: the man who doesn’t get his gas helmet on in time. Again, we don’t know his name or anything about him as a character, but he can be considered a main character of the poem. The other soldiers hurry to put on their helmets, but he doesn’t manage. The consequences are horrific, and we read how the narrator sees him “drowning” in the toxic air. After he is “flung” in a wagon, the narrator describes his

white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin . . .

He is “gargling” blood from

forth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud

(The entire section is 441 words.)