Themes

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Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 702

Goodbye to All That is an autobiography written by English poet Robert Graves in 1929. It details his early life and schooling, but focuses primarily on his time fighting with the Royal Welch Fusiliers during the First World War. When Graves left England, he was extremely disillusioned with its morality, which he felt to be hypocritical, and religion, which he felt to be a lie. This disillusionment is a major theme of the book, expressed largely through his account, at times both comic and horrifying, of his experience of soldiering in World War One.

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We might posit that war is a major theme in this book, but it is perhaps more accurate to say that the theme is the relentlessness and stupidity of war, and how this contributes to the wider theme of disillusionment.

Graves's depictions of the Welshmen who served under him in the trenches are at times fond, and at others almost cruel; this serves to emphasize the sheer humanity and normality of the people being forced into an abnormal situation. War, Graves says, is absurd, and makes ordinary people do ridiculous things for no good reason. Graves himself was reported "died of wounds," although in fact he had merely been shot through the stomach and was expected to die. Instead, Graves endured a very long and painful train ride home to hospital. Graves quotes the report that appeared in the newspaper after the false report of his death to show the sheer hypocrisy of war and the extent to which death has become the new normal: "Mrs Lloyd-George has left London for Criccieth."

Another very ordinary man forced to extraordinary behavior by the stupidity of war was Siegfried Sassoon, Graves's close friend, who before the war had been a very ordinary young man of good upbringing, riding horses in Kent and self-publishing slim volumes of poetry. As war drew on, Graves and Sassoon began to write increasingly critical poetry about the increasingly incompetently managed situation, until Sassoon threw his Military Cross into the Mersey and decided to conscientiously object. Graves depicts in his book how he burst into tears in his attempt to persuade the authorities to send Sassoon to a psychiatric institution, rather than court-martial him; at the same time, it is very clear that Graves believed Sassoon to be completely in his right mind, and the war authorities to be insane. The world at war is a world of opposites, where up is down, and Graves's often humorous tone and deliberate use of absurdity underlines this point.

Another major theme in this book is that of homosociality and male bonding . The stories Graves tells of his upbringing make clear to the reader that the expected social conventions of his time are, in Graves's mind, rather absurd. He is...

(The entire section contains 702 words.)

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