Stylistic Techniques In Dulce Et Decorum Est And Exposure

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Wilfred Owen implicitly displays the theme of suffering in his two poems ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Exposure’ through the use of structural, stylistic and linguistic techniques. Both poems similarly show the true nature but narrate on different aspects of war- Exposure expresses war as a disorganised, chaotic injustice, not only having to fight the enemy, but also the weather. However, Dulce et Decorum Est expresses war as an improper, unromantic act, contrary to what many people perceive it to be.

Owen uses stylistic techniques to portray suffering in Dulce et Decorum Est. The constant use of plosive alliteration such as in “bent … beggars” and “boots/But … blood” as auditory imagery captures the gruelling scene of warfare, mimicking the loud gunfire in the background and representing the strong, harsh nature of warfare. Dissonant alliteration in “coughing … cursed” connotes the unpleasantness of war through the use of cacophonously hard ‘c’ sounds. Plosion is also implemented through the use of consonance, like in “till … haunting … trudge” which mimics the sound of rapid machinegun fire rattling constantly towards the fatigued soldiers, expressing the never-ending, continuous suffering of soldiers. The use of a metaphor, demonstrated in “green sea … drowning” shows the formidable scale and inescapability of the chlorine gas attack through making comparisons with the ocean.

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Moreover, Owen uses linguistic techniques to further portray suffering in Dulce et Decorum Est. A lexical set referring to night through the use of words such as “dreams”, “dim” or “asleep” implies that warfare, just like night, is continuous and cyclic in nature. The transferred epithet “clumsy helmets” disorients the sentence, similar to how it connotatively expresses the state of panic and disorientation within the escaping soldiers. The use of the word ‘trudge’ hyperbolises the difficult environment faced by the young boys. The motif of the environment is further supported by the repeated word “green” which denotatively depicts the chlorine but connotatively links to disgust and suffering. Owen zoomorphoses the soldiers as “hags” and “beggars”, contradictory to the positive imagery associated with soldiers; therefore depicting the dehumanisation of the youth caused by conflict. The use of the phrase ‘drunk with fatigue’ describes the extent to which the weariness is uncontrollable, further emphasised by ‘deaf even to the hoots’, conveying the oblivion due to the extent of the exhaustion faced by soldiers.

In addition, Owen uses structural techniques to portray suffering in Dulce et Decorum Est. The use of iambic pentameter in “If you too could pace behind the wagon …” and throughout stanza four ironically describes a scene of a dying teenage boy while using an orderly, regular meter, suggesting that many view vile suffering as something proper and orderly. A double sonnet structure (28 lines) is used but almost unrecognisable due to its distortion- syllable count differs in certain lines and the rhyme scheme fluctuates between perfect and slant; this implies that war, like the poem itself, is improper and disorderly. There is a stark difference in pace between the first two stanzas, with the former containing a plethora of stretched vowels and caesurae, exemplified in “asleep. Many … fatigue; deaf” that emulates the disrupted pace of the fatigue-stricken men, while the latter is filled with enjambment such as in “fumbling/Fitting”, allowing the pace to speed up and suggest that tensions are rising. However, stretched vowels in stanza two such as “ecstasy…yelling” prevent the pace change, connoting the inability and the slow response to stimuli by the army.

Owen uses linguistic techniques to further portray the theme of suffering in Exposure. The use of double entendre in the title “Exposure” delineates the vulnerability faced by the army to not only the enemy but also the unforgiving weather, as well as conveying the lack of protection and preparation due to both the soldiers’ oblivion and the hierarchy’s incompetence. The use of irony in the word “ice” contrasts with passion and spirit connotative of its antonym “fire”, suggesting a moral defeat within the soldiers. The use of irony in the word ‘poignant misery of dawn’ compares the unvarying daylight cycle to the everlasting ‘misery’ of the soldiers, contradicting the positive connotations such as new life and hope brought by “dawn”. Again, the motif of night and day is used, similar to Dulce et Decorum Est. The use of the word “flickering” connotes something being extinguished and therefore the hope and passion that is lost from the soldiers due to the harsh conditions. Psychological trauma is further conveyed in “We will turn back to our dying”, where the phrase “turn back” suggests a complete loss of hope and the acceptance of inevitabilities by the boys.

Moreover, Owen uses stylistic techniques to portray the theme of suffering in Exposure. Described ironically in “flowing flakes … flocked”, dissonant fricative alliteration is used to juxtapose with the pleasant denotations of the words, connoting the boys’ attitude towards war- romantic at first, but devastating in reality. Similarly, the use of sibilant consonance in “merciless iced east that knive us” ironically illustrates a soothing image through the soft ‘s’ sounds, contradictory to the powerfully emotive description of battle, further conveying that many perceive war to be more positive than it actually is. The weather, personified in “winds that knive” and “mad gusts” is not portrayed as a minor, irrelevant changing factor in their conquest, but also characterised as an angry enemy actively attempting to kill the soldiers, alongside the Germans. The use of an ellipsis such as in “knive us … / … salient …” firstly acts as an enjambment which implicitly shows the continuous, never-ending nature of war, but also as a break, suggesting the long and tedious waits made by the soldiers between battles. Moreover, the continuity of war is conveyed through continuous tense, like in the word “tugging”, which tells us that war never ends.

In addition, Owen uses structural techniques to convey the theme of suffering in Exposure. The suffering of the boys is amplified and implicitly reflected through the use of an enveloped “A-B-B-A” rhyme scheme and an unchanged verse structure, which is boring and repetitive. Furthermore, the use of slant rhyme such as in “war … wire” connotes lack of order and clarity within the soldiers, juxtaposing with the ideal view of the army. The repeated rhetorical question “What are we doing here?” points to the true cluelessness of the unprepared army and further symbolizes chaos and confusion. Stretched vowels implying tedious waiting for action such as in “down … nonchalant” are frequently and irregularly interrupted by contrasting clipped vowels suggesting an ecstatic, lively scene of battle, like in “Sudden … flights of bullets”. This style and pace changes throughout the poem shows the polarising and inconsistent nature of war, just like in Dulce et Decorum Est.

The essay set out to show that Owen illustrates the theme of suffering in war for many reasons — to portray a negative emotional image that conflicts with the idealistic public view of war in Dulce et Decorum Est, and to show the true negative psychological and physical changes that ultimately lead to acceptance and utter loss in Exposure, all in a range of implicit and explicit poetic devices. Both poems show the effects of unrealistic desires and lack of pragmatism, therefore actively urging the reader to make the wisest decisions, as the wrong ones can corrupt lives for good. 

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