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"MENTAL CASES" BY WILFRED OWEN

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Misa Nguyen

on 13 October 2014

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Transcript of "MENTAL CASES" BY WILFRED OWEN

- We consider cases as something that could probably be cured, such as a case of the flu or a court case. This is ironic because Owen portrays clearly how permanently scarring war and the mental and psychological illnesses can be.
Biographical Context
Historical Context
After WW1, several soldiers were taken into hospitals and institutions due to them being diagnosed with shell shock, PTSD, Depression, Anxiety and so on after being active in combat. A soldier diagnosed with these illnesses would be called a "mental case"
Similes and Metaphors
- "purgatorial shadows" (2)

- "Baring teeth that leer like skulls' teeth wicked?" (4)

- "on their sense sunlight seems a blood-smear; night becomes blood black" (21)

- "dawn breaks open like a wound that bleeds afresh" (22)
Syntax
Syntax
Stanza 1

Who are these? Why
sit they
here in twilight?
Wherefore
rock they
, purgatorial shadows,
Drooping tongues from jays that slob their relish,
Baring teeth that leer like skulls'
teeth wicked
?
Stroke on stroke of pain, --but what slow panic,
Gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets?
Ever from their hair and through their hands' palms
Misery swelters. Surely we have perished
Sleeping, and walk hell; but who these hellish?

Syntax
Meter: Mainly written in trochaic pentameter with the exception of a few lines that have more than 10 syllables
-lines 2, 8, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 21, 22, 23

No rhyme scheme present
"MENTAL CASES" BY WILFRED OWEN
- This poem was drafted in the late summer of 1917 when Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon were patients of the Craighlockhart Hospital.

- Owen was inspired by Sassoon's poem "The Survivors" as well as a poem he has written previously, "Purgatorial Passions."

- On May 25, 1918 he sent a letter from Ripon saying "I've been busy this evening with my terrific poem (at
present) 'The Deranged'." A few months later, it got revised and retitled to "Mental Cases" in Scarborough.

Caesuras and End-Stopped Lines
Stanza 1

Who are these
?
Why sit they here in twilight
?
Wherefore rock they
,
purgatorial shadows
,
Drooping tongues from jays that slob their relish
,
Baring teeth that leer like skulls' teeth wicked
?
Stroke on stroke of pain
, --
but what slow panic
,
Gouged these chasms round their fretted sockets
?
Ever from their hair and through their hands' palms
Misery swelters
.
Surely we have perished
Sleeping
,
and walk hell
;
but who these hellish
?

Caesura
End-stopped



Syntactical Inversions
Syntax
Stanza 1: The author uses rhetorical questions in Stanza 1 when he asks about the soldiers. He refers to them as "these" and "they"; this goes back to the soldiers being dehumanized by these cases.
Personification
Line 11: "Memory fingers in their hair of murders,"
Line 10: "--These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished."
Line 14: "Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter."
Line 24: "Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses."
Sound Devices
Alliteration:
12: "Multitudinous murders"
21: "blood-black"
23: "hilarious, hideous"
Sibilance:
3: "Drooping tongues from jays that slob their relish,
8: "Misery swelters. Surely we have perished"
13: Wading sloughs of flesh these helpless wander,"
15: Always they must see these things and hear them"
The Title and Purpose of "Mental Cases"
- Can also be interpreted as the object "case" (you know, like a book case, a box, etc) that is empty because that symbolizes what some of the soldiers feel like after war.
- Not only did "Mental Cases" serve as an outlet for Owen to express his resentment and disgust towards war, it was also propaganda to go against all of the people saying war was good.
Speaker & Audience
Tone & Diction
Stanza Structure: 1st stanza is about the author/narrator going through the hospital, making observations and asking questions. 2nd stanza is when he knows that they are the soldiers. 3rd stanza is when these soldiers are going towards him and trying to draw him towards hell.
Owen designs this poem to evoke emotion in the reader by asking rhetorical questions about the suffering of war and finding someone to blame.
Line 1: "Who are these? Why sit they here in the twilight?" [This rhetorical question, which is also the opening line, emphasizes the dehumanization of war.]
Line 2: "Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows,"
Line 10: "These are men whose minds the Dead have ravished."
Lines 27, 28: "Snatching after us who smote them, brother, Pawing us who dealt them war and madness."
It is a common pattern
throughout Owen's poems to see negative and gruesome diction as well as tone.
Line 3: "
Drooping
tongues from jaws that
slob
their relish,"
Line 22: "
Dawn breaks
open like a wound that
bleeds afresh
--"
Line 23: "- Thus their heads wear this
hilarious,

hideous
, Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses."
Owen's tone due to destructive and horrific nature of war is implied through his use of gory diction, as well as his use of rhetoric in the first stanza.
Literary Devices
Literary Devices #2
Imagery- Death and biblical imagery are prominent throughout Owen's works. In "Mental Cases", we can see death and ruin incorporated with the mention of suffering and references to parts of a body instead of a whole.
Stuck in Purgatory
Owen emphasizes death as a slow and suffering process in war; his use of "purgatorial" imagery signifies that these men are stuck between war and reality, and/or life and death.
Line 14: "Treading blood from lungs that had loved laughter."
Line 19: "Therefore still their eyeballs shrink tormented back into their brains,-"
"Plucking, picking, snatching, pawing..."
Oxymoron- Line 5: "slow panic"
Allusion- Line 2: "..purgatorial shadows,"
Paradox/irony- Line 23: "..this hilarious, hideous, Awful falseness of set-smiling corpses."
Rhetoric- First Stanza, Lines 1-9: "Who are these? Why sit they here in twilight? Wherefore rock they, purgatorial shadows... baring teeth that leer like skulls' tongues wicked?
Sleeping, and walk hell; but who these hellish?
Full transcript