What poetic techniques are used in "The Hero" and how are they effective?

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Siegfried Sassoon crafts "The Hero" using structural and literary elements that ultimately shape the ironic meaning behind the title's deceased fallen soldier.

The poem is written in iambic pentameter. This means that each line has five pairs of syllables, and in each pair, the second syllable is stressed. The lines below show how this sounds, with the bold word/syllable being the one receiving the stress:

"Jack fell as he'd have wished,"the Mother said,
And folded up the letter that she'd read.

This easy pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables is accompanied by an easy rhyme pattern: AABBCC. The structure itself, then, seems to present an easy pattern, and that is actually a bit deceptive. The reader can be swept up into the ease of the structure and overlook the fact that the poem is masking a very complicated truth. This subject is not an easy one.

Although news portrayals of fallen soldiers often present them as one-dimensional heroes, the facts are that these soldiers are quite human and are as flawed as anyone else. This reflection on a war "hero" shows that in battle, he didn't prove himself heroic at all.

The title, then, is ironic. Although the mother wants to view her son's death as a heroic sacrifice to his country, the soldier delivering the news knows otherwise: Jack was a coward. He'd tried to get sent home, and his efforts were so useless that he is remembered as "swine," the word choice connoting Jack's utter uselessness in the battle.

Jack was "blown to small bits," the alliteration of the b sound reminiscent of the sound of an explosion. There is no soft emotion in the description of his death, further solidifying the idea that no one was sad to see Jack die. In fact, "no one seemed to care" that the world goes on without him except his mother.

Characterization is shown in the officer who delivers the news through the details that he "coughed and mumbled" through the mother's pride in her "glorious" and "brave" son who has died in battle. The officer can hardly choke down these words in light of the truth, yet he allows the mother to believe in the image she's created to "nourish all her days" accompanied by the outright "lies" he's given her to ease her pain. Although her son proved a coward in battle, the officer doesn't want to inflict undue pain on a grieving mother.

Together, the literary elements in "The Hero" show that war isn't simple and that fallen soldiers are as complicated as anyone else. Although war is often romanticized, those who fight and die are not always the heroes we imagine them to be.

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