Birdsong

by

Sebastian Faulks

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Jack Firebrace Character Analysis

A British miner. Jack digs many of the tunnels beneath the trenches during World War I, and he works closely with Stephen Wraysford. Jack is kind and hard-working, and sadly, his work in the tunnels during the war is little different than his life as a miner laying underground railroads in London. He is a man of deep faith in God, and his love for his son, John, gives him solace during the war. Jack also finds strength in his friendship with fellow soldier Arthur Shaw, and the tenderness with which Faulks depicts their friendship serves to disrupt traditional stereotypes of masculinity. Jack is devastated when John dies of diphtheria and Shaw is killed in the tunnels, but he manages to survive on their memories. He dies deep under the French soil when a German bomb blows up the British tunnel in the final attack of the war.

Jack Firebrace Quotes in Birdsong

The Birdsong quotes below are all either spoken by Jack Firebrace or refer to Jack Firebrace. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
History and the Future Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Birdsong published in 1993.
Part Two: France 1916 Quotes

None of these men would admit that what they saw and what they did were beyond the boundaries of human behaviour. You would not believe, Jack thought, that the fellow with his cap pushed back, joking with his friend at the window of the butcher’s shop, had seen his other mate dying in a shellhole, gas frothing in his lungs. No one told; and Jack too joined the unspoken conspiracy that all was well, that no natural order had been violated. He blamed the NCOs, who blamed the officers; they swore at the staff officers, who blamed the generals.

Related Characters: Jack Firebrace
Page Number: 136
Explanation and Analysis:

In good humour, braving the barely understood the jeers of the washerwoman who stood by to take their clothes, the men queued naked for the baths that been set up in a long barn. Jack stood behind Shaw, admiring his huge back, with the muscles slabbed and spread out across his shoulder blades, so that his waist, though in fact substantial enough, looked like a nipped-in funnel by comparison, above the dimple of the coccyx and fatty swell of his hair-covered buttocks.

Related Characters: Jack Firebrace, Arthur Shaw
Page Number: 137
Explanation and Analysis:

“No one in England knows what this is like. If they could see the way these men live they would not believe their eyes. This is not a war, this is an exploration of how far men can be degraded. I am deeply curious to see how much further it can be taken; I want to know. I believe that it has barely started. I believe that far worse things than we have seen will be authorized and will be carried out by millions of boys and men like my Tipper and your Firebrace. There is no depth to which they can’t be driven.”

Related Characters: Stephen Wraysford (speaker), Jack Firebrace, Michael Weir, Tipper
Page Number: 145
Explanation and Analysis:

Jack tried not to imagine the weight of earth on top of them. He did not think of the roots of trees, stretching down through the soil. In any case they were too deep now. He had always survived in London by picturing the tunnel in which he worked as a railway compartment at night: the shutters were closed over a small space, you could not see anything, but outside a wide world of trees and fields beneath an open sky was whistling safely by in the darkness. When the space was no more than three feet wide and he had the earth pressing in his mouth and eyes, the illusion became difficult to sustain.

Related Characters: Jack Firebrace
Page Number: 161
Explanation and Analysis:
Part Three: England 1978 Quotes

In the tunnel of the Underground, stalled in the darkness, Elizabeth Benson sighed in impatience. She wanted to be home to see if there were any letters or in case the telephone should ring. A winter coat was pressed in her face by the crush of passengers along the aisle of the carriage. Elizabeth pulled her small suitcase closer to her feet. She had returned from a two-day business trip to Germany that morning and had gone straight in to work from Heathrow without returning to her flat. With the lights out she could not see to read her paper. She closed her eyes and tried to let her imagination remove her from the still train and its tightfitting hole.

Related Characters: Elizabeth Benson, Jack Firebrace
Page Number: 233
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire Birdsong LitChart as a printable PDF.
Birdsong PDF

Jack Firebrace Character Timeline in Birdsong

The timeline below shows where the character Jack Firebrace appears in Birdsong. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part Two: France 1916
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
Englishman Jack Firebrace is digging forty-five feet below the French soil, excavating the trenches of World War... (full context)
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
Evans tells Jack to back out of the hole he is chipping away at. Turner, another miner, has... (full context)
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
Turner claims that the sounds seem to be German digging, and Jack asks Weir to turn off the air-feed so that he can listen more closely. Jack... (full context)
History and the Future Theme Icon
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
...not enough oxygen. The two men finish their shift of digging, and as Evans helps Jack out of his hole, a sudden blast rocks the earth and collapses much of their... (full context)
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Back on the surface, Jack receives a letter from his wife, Margaret, but he is unable to read it. It... (full context)
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Jack informs the other miners that Turner has been killed. Jack shares a small dugout with... (full context)
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...previously ordered to sentry duty, but the platoon is short of men and Weir orders Jack to the post instead. Jack tries to sleep before his watch starts but the day’s... (full context)
Love and Hate Theme Icon
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
Abandoning sleep, Jack reads the letter from Margaret and learns that his son, John, has fallen ill with... (full context)
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At his sentry post, Jack is exhausted and falls asleep without realizing it. Captain Weir walks by and discovers Jack’s... (full context)
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After he is relieved by another miner, Jack sits quietly under a tree undamaged by shellfire. If he is found guilty by court-martial,... (full context)
Love and Hate Theme Icon
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
Soon, Jack’s sergeant collects him to go before Lieutenant Wraysford, one of the “strangest officers” the sergeant... (full context)
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Lieutenant Wraysford declines to charge Jack and Weir doesn’t see the point in any further action. Wraysford tells Jack that he... (full context)
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Later, Jack and the other miners are finally relieved and allowed to march to a billet for... (full context)
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...to sleep in. In the barn, Tyson finds a clean corner and invites Shaw and Jack to join him. While the men do grow tired of each other’s habits, they are... (full context)
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Later in the day, Jack wakes and walks outside as an infantry battalion arrives in the village. Jack notes that... (full context)
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The company food wagon arrives to feed the men, and Jack is too ashamed to admit that the meager meals supplied on the front are better... (full context)
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...go back to the trenches, the men gather for singing. Weir plays the piano and Jack tells jokes, and Weir finds it difficult to enjoy the men’s company knowing that they... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Jack Firebrace has applied for leave to visit his sick son, but Weir denies him and... (full context)
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Jack meets them underground and leads the soldiers through the dark underworld of the war. “I’ve... (full context)
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Jack tells Stephen that the men laying the mine are worried that Germans are tunneling through... (full context)
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After the bombardment, Jack and Shaw sit smoking cigarettes and drinking tea. Shaw asks Jack if he knows anything... (full context)
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Down the trench line, Jack finds a medical tent and asks an orderly about Stephen. “They put him over the... (full context)
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Jack wanders down to the ploughed field that holds the endless sea of decaying corpses and... (full context)
Love and Hate Theme Icon
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
Meanwhile, Jack Firebrace finds solace in thoughts of his son. The love he feels for John “redeems... (full context)
Love and Hate Theme Icon
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
After his shift, Jack Firebrace takes out Margaret’s letter. Reading it, he discovers that his son has died. A... (full context)
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Jack and Shaw watch from a distance and can’t believe the carnage. They expected a swift... (full context)
Part Four: France 1917
Love and Hate Theme Icon
Sex and Gender Theme Icon
In another dugout, Jack and Shaw try to get some sleep. In the small hole, the men curl up... (full context)
Love and Hate Theme Icon
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
Meanwhile, as the miners bury Shaw’s recovered body, Jack throws a handful of dirt into the mass grave. He wasn’t surprised when he received... (full context)
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In the following days, Jack and the other men are given the rare opportunity to bathe. They hand in their... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Jack has finished digging and rests in a dugout. Since Shaw’s death, Jack has begun to... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Jack and the other miners remain in the trenches. As Weir approaches them, Jack notices that... (full context)
Part Six: France 1918
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Later, Stephen crawls into the tunnel behind Jack Firebrace and two other men. They soon meet up with two other infantry men, and... (full context)
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A miner takes out a stethoscope and listens. He motions for Jack to come listen too, and he closes his eyes in concentration. Jack confirms footsteps moving... (full context)
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Jack can hear Stephen unearthing him, but he can feel his legs crushed under a large... (full context)
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“What happened?” Stephen asks. Jack tells him the Germans blew a charge right above them. They probably know where they... (full context)
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Stephen works for five hours trying to free Jack before he must take a rest. He falls asleep on Jack’s chest just as another... (full context)
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Stephen frees Jack and begins making his way down the tunnel that Jack has identified as the exit.... (full context)
Sex and Gender Theme Icon
Stephen and Jack stay in the tunnel for nearly an hour. If they don’t do something, Stephen thinks,... (full context)
Love and Hate Theme Icon
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
Stephen asks Jack who he would like to die with. “Which human being out of all those you... (full context)
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“You talk almost as though you had fallen in love,” Stephen tells Jack. Jack explains how he did. Stephen tells him to hold on. After he gets him... (full context)
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Jack asks Stephen if he would choose to die next to him. Stephen tells Jack he... (full context)
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Jack begins to tremble so badly that Stephen is unable to carry him, and he resigns... (full context)
History and the Future Theme Icon
Nature, War, and Morality Theme Icon
...is a sandbag. The entire wall appears to be made out of sandbags. Stephen wakes Jack to ask him why there are sandbags here—they seem out of place—but Jack is delirious... (full context)
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Jack, suddenly becoming lucid, tells Stephen that the New Zealanders lay sandbags differently than the Englishmen,... (full context)
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Stephen talks to Jack as he digs, trying to keep him alive. After hours of work, he finds several... (full context)
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After Jack explains how to blow the explosives, Stephen carries him down the fighting tunnel and out... (full context)
Love and Hate Theme Icon
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...underground. There is no light but there is some air, and he tries to wake Jack. When Jack doesn’t respond, Stephen begins to yell. “Do you hate the Germans? Do you... (full context)
Love and Hate Theme Icon
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...to kill himself now, he will have to use his knife. Stephen begins to beg Jack. “You have to want to live. You must believe.” Quietly, Jack says he doesn’t want... (full context)
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...figures that they have been trapped for five or six days. He yells out to Jack, who is awake and lucid. He tells Stephen that he is thankful for his last... (full context)
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The men bring up the bodies of Jack and Levi’s brother, and bury them in a shared grave. That night, they eat out... (full context)
Part Seven: England 1979
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...is confused over one entry, though. Stephen wrote about being trapped with a man named Jack who has a son called John, and in the exchange he writes, “I said I... (full context)