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Journey’s End

Journey’s End Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on R.C. Sherriff's Journey’s End. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of R.C. Sherriff

Robert Cedric Sherriff was born in 1896 in Hampton Wick, Middlesex. Upon finishing school in 1914, he began working in his father’s insurance office, working as a clerk until World War I. Sherriff served in the East Surrey Regiment, fighting in several notable battles until he was finally injured in 1917. At this point, he returned to his original line of work, acting as an insurance adjuster for ten years. During this period, he began to write plays, drawing upon his wartime experiences in works like Journey’s End, his most famous and celebrated artistic effort. First produced in 1928, Journey’s End attracted widespread critical acclaim and enjoyed a long run in London. After this success, Sherriff attended New College, Oxford in the early thirties, where he was part of the Royal Society of Literature and the Society of Antiquaries of London. During his lifetime, he composed eighteen original plays, wrote fifteen film scripts, and even published several novels.
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Historical Context of Journey’s End

Journey’s End is a play about World War I, which began in 1914 and lasted until 1918. The conflict itself was set off when Franz Ferdinand, the archduke of Austria, was assassinated by a Yugoslavian nationalist attempting to upset Austro-Hungarian rule. As a result of this assassination, many European and Asian countries were swept up in a war that escalated quickly due to past years of international tensions and political allegiances. Although the war itself was too complex to fully cover here, suffice it to say that the two major players were the countries that made up the Allies (including France, the British Empire, the Russian Empire, the United States, and Italy, among many others) and the countries that made up the Central Powers (including Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria, among others). In the end, the Allies won, leaving Germany and Austria-Hungary to bear the major brunt of the loss. Both Russia and the Ottoman Empire, for their part, withdrew from the war before it ended. Journey’s End takes place during the final year of the war. More specifically, the play elapses over the days leading up to the Battle of St. Quentin, which began on March 21st and marked the beginning of Operation Michael, a German offensive attempt to advance through Allied lines in order to seize control of British supply points in the seaports of the English Channel. Although the German forces wreaked havoc on the Allies and gained significant grounds, they eventually ran out of supplies and men before achieving their goal. This failure signaled the downturn of the Central Powers, who were ultimately defeated eight months later.

Other Books Related to Journey’s End

Although the novel has more fighting and action than Journey’s End, Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front is similar to Sherriff’s play because of its interest in exploring not only the absurd brutalities of war, but also the moments of quiet anticipation that characterize prolonged conflicts. Published just one year apart, the two texts look at different sides of World War I, and taken together, readers can begin to understand that the emotional experience of war is rather uniform, regardless of the country for which a soldier fights. Indeed, both Journey’s End and All Quiet on the Western Front explore what it feels like to wait for something (terrible) to happen—a theme that also surfaces in Samuel Beckett’s 1954 play, Waiting for Godot. Although Waiting for Godot is not expressly about war, it still examines the existential thoughts that arise when someone must pass the time. In Waiting for Godot, Estragon and Dimitri wait for a man named Godot, but can’t remember why, exactly, they are doing so; nor do they know what will happen when Godot arrives. Similarly, the characters of Journey’s End wait for the Germans to attack, but they don’t know precisely what this attack will be like. As they pass the time, they begin to see the cycles of action and inaction as seemingly interminable, thinking that no matter what they do, the war will go on in a pattern of alternating calm and chaos. In this way, Journey’s End and Waiting for Godot are alike, as both plays make use of anticipation to create a sense of futility and existential uncertainty.
Key Facts about Journey’s End
  • Full Title: Journey’s End
  • When Published: Journey’s End was first produced on December 9th, 1928
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Drama, Realism
  • Setting: A military dugout in the British trenches of St. Quentin, France during World War I.
  • Climax: After days of mounting tension and anticipation, the Germans finally stage a massive attack on the British trenches, seriously overwhelming Stanhope’s infantry and fatally wounding Raleigh.
  • Antagonist: The Germans are the most obvious antagonists in Journey’s End, but they hardly ever actually appear in the play. Because of this, the threat they pose—the sense of doom that hovers over the British dugout—becomes the true antagonistic force.

Extra Credit for Journey’s End

Rowing Club. R.C. Sherriff composed and staged his first play in order to raise money for Kingston Rowing Club so that the organization could purchase a new boat.

The Big Screen. Since it first premiered, Journey’s End has been staged many, many times. In 2018, though, it was adapted as a feature film for the first time.