The memoir: "Under Fire" was written by Henri Barbusse at the age of 43 years in 1916 in French before it was translated to English in 1917. Barbusse was born on May 17, 1873, and died in 1935 in Starin in Moscow. His mother was a British while his father was French; therefore he was a half French and a half British. Barbusse joined the French army in 1914 relatively at the age of 41 years where he would serve in the war for seventeen months before he was moved to a clerical position after he was injured in war. Considered to be the first realistic novel describing the horrors of the trench warfare the memoir was written in the middle of world war 1, providing information and experience of life and death during the First World War. It was during this time when he at the front that he made extensive notes which would later form the basis of this novel. Barbusse main audiences are the public and the authority.
The targeted audiences change the tone of the book. In this case, it shows the author is mourning the death of soldiers. He is criticizing the authority for taking untrained soldiers to war. He says "They are not solder, they are men. They are not adventures, or worries, or made for human slaughter, neither butchers nor cattle. They are laborers and artisans whom one recognizes in their uniforms. They are civilians uprooted and are ready. They await the signal for death or murder: but you may see, looking at their faces between the vertical gleams of their bayonets, that they are simple men" (page 241). He is writing in remembrance of fallen soldiers. Giving a moving account of the horrendous suffering they experienced in the trenches, what they went through physically and psychologically during the war. He describes how the soldier's life was in the dirty trenches. How they life was during the rain, during the winter, and the summer how they missed the good things back home. It was a question of life death. He tells how the squad had to escape from trenches because of explosives and poisonous gases. The way Henri describe the life of soldiers in the trenches and the surrounding areas is poetic, harrowing descriptions and a political.
Henri Barbusse book is trying to explain the horrors of the First World War. His first pages describe a torn landscape in which the human figure emerges. "Up on the sky, a flight of dreadful birds which can be heard but not seen as they are too high and too far, spirals upwards to look down upon the earth" (page 5) here we meet the squad describing the mess and tragic life they had to undergo through the battlefield. He illustrates how the soldiers were having unhygienic life living with their body waste matter. "Now you can make out the long network of ditches where the lave of the night still lingers. It is the trench. It is carpeted at the bottom with a layer of slime that liberates the foot at each step with a sticky sound, and by each dugout, it smells of the night excretions" Barbusse stand-in as the first-person narrator who is part of the team but an observer. In small parts of the book we can see how the squad members would go through the normal routine; reading letters from their mothers and wives, going for and coming back from leaves and sometimes sneaking off trying to get some extra food.
In his next pages, he names and describes each member of the squad. The leader of the squad or the corporal is Bertrand, who was respectable, upright, a foreman in his life before the war. He also describes other members of the squad such as Voltpatte as square-faced who later loses his ears to a shell. Lamuse is described as the human bull, Cadilhac the landowner, Parisian who is a working class, Barque the delivery boy who was the youngest, Fouillade who was a boatman from Cette, Tirette who was funny came from Clichy-la-Garonne, Tirloir who was the grumbler, Cocon who used to work in an ironmonger shop who he described as being obsessed with figures. Pepin who was attending bar, Mesnil Andre who was a pharmacist from a Norman town, his brother Joseph who worked in a railway and the miner from Calonne who he named Poterloo. He describes each, the life they had before now unified as a nation at war. It illustrates the bonds forged by the troops transcends different from region, class, personalities, and generations. In chapter 21 "the refuge" he describes how the wounded combatants would wait for medical attention in the trenches. "In this confined cavity formed by the crossing of the ditches, in the bottom of a sort of robbers den, we waited for two hours, buffeted, squeezed, sorted and emaciated from chocked and blinded, climbing over each other like cattle, in an odor of blood and butchery. Some faces became more distorted and emaciated from minute to minute. One of the patients can no longer hold back his tear; they come in floods as he shakes his head he sprinkles his neighbors. Another, bleeding like a fountain, shouts, "Hey there have a look at me!" a..." (Page 276-277)
Under Fire allows us to explore how the wartime audience reacted to texts from the war as the book was written during the war even before the outcome of the war was clear. Although the names of the characters are fictional, it provides fertile ground on the truth about what happened during the war. He portrays the experiences of combatants as one of the universal and unmitigated sufferings. The way he articulates things in his book Barbusse give realistic, vivid information about the suffering and endurance at the time of war. The incredible historical studies help us study this middle of war memoir. He gives the memory of the war. Him being part of the front in the war give us a chance to think about the war as both experience and construction of memory. Under Fire give students a lot of historical information what actually happened during the First World War. Although it revolves around the combatants, it also gives a good deal that conveys about violence, life under occupation, race, what it means to be a man and a Frenchman, race, and soldiers witnessing the conflicts. It also gives the environmental history and human population during this time.
Barbusse, H. (1917). Under Fire: The Story of a Squad (Le Feu). Dutton.
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