As a former member of the American Legion Auxiliary and having just observed another Memorial Day service “Glory to Women” was a much needed reality check to supplement our efforts to remember our fallen here in America.
With the use of the word glory in the title of Sassoon’s sonnet those two things combined lead readers to believe the poem will me a romancing of ones love; a woman who is worthy of honor and magnificent. This was hardly Sassoon’s desire to convey in the poem; rather the poem is very sarcastic in meaning. Sassoon paints the picture of women who are so head over heals about telling the world ‘my man is fighting so bravely to serve his country’ and become so goo-goo eyed that they don’t see what horrors these men are suffering. Sassoon portrays the women of war time Britain as naïve as ‘you make us shells, you listen with delight.’ (Greenblatt, pg. 351) The women while now working which was a change from Victorian era which, will be touched on a little more later, were in factories making the shells that the soldiers will fire to protect and defend not only their country, but their own lives. However ‘shells’ could also in this context be interpreted as the woman were so worried about the outside appearance the men gave them that they didn’t once think to consider the emotional impact made by the war creating a ‘shell of a man’.
Why is it that the women would be so insensitive and so clueless as to the real consequences of war? I feel John Ruskin’s “Of Queens Garden” written in the early Victorian Era holds some very good clues to why the women would act in such an insensitive way. “By her office, and place, she is protected from all danger and temptation”. (Greenblatt, pg 661) Ruskin was one of the forerunner is the race to have separate spheres for men and women and felt that it was woman’s place to be at home rearing the children, and not dealing with the things outside the home. This ideology was a wide spread thought that monopolized British way of life in the 1800’s. So, in Sassoon’s time most of the women of the time would more than likely be daughters or granddaughters of this generation of women who were adorned and admired for being to be blunt naïve. For the soldiers to mock or degrade the women for acting how they did about their fight in the war the men have also not taken into account the background of the women is very hypocritical. How can the women understand what is happen when the generations who brought them up were kept away from the ugliness of life.
I certainly am not saying women were in the right to be uncompassionate, but as the men felt their mental states disintegrate as the ladies of their lives turned a blind eye to the sadness and distress they faced how can the men be upset when more than likely it was their father or grandfather’s who wanted the women of their time to be the as Coventry Patmore puts it ‘The Angels of the House’.
As a member of the Legion I must be a direct descendant of a serviceman of US war time. My great grandfather was on one of the first ships to storm Normandy beach. While I am so proud to honor and adore him I do not take lightly the sacrifices he made physically and mentally to fight so bravely for others to stay at home and live the ‘American dream’. Even the German mother knitted socks to send her son which implies that there was no fear of death or reality of war. (Greenblatt, pg 351) This was not just a British issue, but a world wide issue. So many just did not understand the implications that came with the fight.
While Memorial Day has now passed in America let us not forget and be thankful for the horrors suffered by our service men and women to keep us free, and let us be sensitive to what they have experienced. We will never be able to understand watching a fallen comrade pass in our sights, or having killed an innocent civilian, but we can make the effort to not just view our veterans as heroes but as people who have feelings just as everyone else. I thank Siegfried Sassoon for his service to his country, but also his service of writing to all who have not served as he helped to tear down the fake façade of war.
Greenblatt, S. and Robson, C. (n.d.). The Norton anthology of English literature.