You are to select one of the following topics and write an academic, formal, literary essay with an introduction, body paragraphs, transition paragraphs and a conclusion. It should be no more than five typed pages (double spaced-including quotations)
1. “Robert Ross comes riding straight towards the camera. His hat has fallen off. His hands are knotted to the reins. They bleed…He leaps through memory without a sound…You lay the fiery image back in your mind and let it rest. You know it will obtrude again and again until you find its meaning – here” (12-13)
The full search for meaning will engage our creative imagination as well as our historical knowledge or our sharp eye for visual details; The Wars, with its historical references and its visual symbolism, will make demands upon all three of these means of gaining knowledge.
2. “Robert and Rowena with Meg: Rowena seated astride the pony – Robert holding her in place. On the back is written: ‘Look! You can see our breath!’ And you can.” (191)
The words “And you can” reveal that the reader, by seeing, selecting, and making judgements about experience, can breathe life into that dry document, the past.
3. The choice of title for the novel suggests the deliberate mixing of history and fiction, documentary and the imaginary. The concept of war is being waged in more places than the battlefield or treaty hall of traditional history. There is the war of Mrs. Ross against the pain of love, the wars of sexual competition between Barbara D’Orsey and her men, as well as Robert Ross’ inner war about going to war.
4. “He looked at Robert. Here was an unknown quantity – a child in breeches with a blue scarf wound around his neck whose job it was to get them out and back alive. This – to Bates – was the greatest terror of war: what you didn’t know of the men who told you what to do – where to go and when. What if they were mad – or stupid? What if their fear was greater than yours?” (119)
None of the men serving in this war can be sure of the things which Bates mentions; none can know whether they are serving under a compassionate Robert Ross or a power-crazed Captain Leather. The mind of a “soldier” shows how the problem of knowledge and perception is basic to war because so much of the process of judgement has to do with our knowledge or ignorance of details.
5. The central question of the novel is – how are we to understand and perceive Robert Ross and his act? Robert’s attempt to rescue the horses is either an act of heroism or an act of madness, an act of bitterness by the overwhelming cruelty of our world, or an act of defiant gesture which when translated sets him apart and sets him free.
6. Findley is writing about more than military war in this novel. The battles of The Wars include the battles of domestic living, and the battles fought against the destructive force of human beings levelled at the environment as a whole as well as the personal battles of the heart.
7. “The narrator says, ‘shuffle these cards and lay them out: this is the hand that Robert Ross was born with.” Robert’s actions are the result of his family and social background.
8. “The narrator says, ‘Pay attention! People can only be found in what they do.” The reader is actively and effectively involved and engaged in the novel through the creation of narrative techniques and a great variety of styles.
9. What is a hero? What is Heroism? Can we really know the past? Should we ever forget it? The Wars allows the reader and the narrator to examine and bridge the past by interpreting the memories of the women in the novel from the perspective of the present; Mrs. Ross, Barbara D’Orsey, Juliet D’Orsey, and Marion Turner all seek to understand the wars.
10. There are rich patterns or symbolism in the novel and this abundance of meaningful images is part, of course, of the visual appeal of the novel. Through these patterns of symbolism are revealed Robert Ross’ experiences in the war, his memories of the past, and his affinity to the natural world.
11. The elements of earth, air, fire, and water are essential for mankind’s survival; in the novel they do not remain static the meanings associated with them change according to whether they are associated with domestic life or with the nightmare world of the wars.
12. The characters in The Wars have mixed opinions about Robert Ross. Some see him as a hero and some see him as a villain, the very antithesis of a hero.
13. At one point in the novel Robert looks at Rodwell and thinks he looks strange. He concludes, “We’re all strange, Robert thought. Everyone is strange in a war I guess. Ordinary is a myth.” To what extent is Robert Ross just an ordinary man?
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