Journey’s End


R.C. Sherriff

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Themes and Colors
Friendship and Human Interaction Theme Icon
Anticipation, Expectations, and Uncertainty Theme Icon
Fear and Coping Theme Icon
Repetition, Futility, and Perspective Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Journey’s End, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Fear and Coping Theme Icon

All of the soldiers in Journey’s End find different ways to cope with their fear. In fact, their responses to fear can be broken into three categories: acceptance, denial, and evasion. In general, the most emotionally stable characters are those who accept their situation. These are people like Osborne and Raleigh, who acknowledge their own fear and unfortunate circumstances, but still bravely carry out their soldierly duties. Stanhope, on the other hand, tries to stifle (and thus deny) his own fear by drinking heavily, while Hibbert tries to escape the war altogether by lying about various ailments. However, the soldiers best able to handle fear (like Osborne and Raleigh) also end up meeting the worst fate, whereas the least brave characters (like Stanhope and Hibbert) apparently escape unscathed. In this way, Sherriff intimates that although fear and cowardice are generally not seen as desirable traits, they are perhaps appropriate reactions to the gruesomely violent circumstances of war. In other words, the coping mechanisms that actually might help someone get through war are not necessarily those lauded in everyday life.

Soldiers like Osborne and Raleigh don’t like their circumstances, but they learn to generally accept that they must live under the constant threat of death. Indeed, they do what they can to normalize their situations. When Raleigh first arrives, he talks with Osborne about his journey to the battlefront, a journey that took him through a number of underground passageways and trenches. On his way, he looked up and saw the flares known as Very lights—lights sent into the air by soldiers to track their enemies during the night. Despite the ominous nature of the Very lights, both Raleigh and Osborne mentally reframe them to make them less frightening. “There’s something rather romantic about it all,” Osborne says of the lit-up night sky. “Yes,” Raleigh agrees. “I thought that, too.” In this moment, the audience sees Osborne and Raleigh’s ability to reframe parts of the war, shifting their attitudes so they can deal with otherwise terrifying circumstances. Thinking of the Very lights as “romantic” ultimately enables them to ignore—or at least not focus on—ominous notions of violence and death. Simply put, they make the best of their situation.

Stanhope’s response to fear represents the second category of coping mechanisms: denial. Everyone in his infantry sees him as a brave captain, but in reality he’s just as scared and upset as everyone else, if not more so. The night Osborne—Stanhope’s close friend and second-in-command—dies in action, Stanhope parties the night away, eating special foods and encouraging his men to join him in drinking champagne and whiskey. Raleigh, who can’t bring himself to participate in the festivities, eventually asks Stanhope how he can eat and drink so heartily after Osborne’s death. “To forget, you little fool—to forget!” Stanhope shouts. “You think there’s no limit to what a man can bear?” With this exclamation, Stanhope straightforwardly reveals how he gets through the war: he searches for distractions in order to “forget” the terrible things that have happened (and that will happen). He recognizes that there are “limit[s] to what a man can bear,” and so he turns to superficial diversions as a way of moving forward.

Like Stanhope, Officer Hibbert has a hard time accepting his circumstances. Rather than drinking, though, he tries to lie his way out of the military by claiming he has a bad case of neuralgia (nerve pain). This is more of an evasive tactic than a coping mechanism, something Hibbert uses so that he doesn’t have to face his fear at all. When Hibbert says he needs to leave on account of his pain, Stanhope tries to force him to stay. “Stanhope!” Hibbert pleads. “I’ve tried like hell…Ever since I came out here I’ve hated and loathed it. Every sound up there makes me all—cold and sick. I’m different to—to the others—you don’t understand.” With this, Hibbert reveals that his neuralgia excuse is just that: an excuse. The true reason he’s trying to leave is that he “hates” the trenches. When he tries to maintain that he’s “different to the others,” Stanhope objects. “I feel the same—exactly the same!” he says. “Why didn’t you tell me instead of talking about neuralgia?” After saying this, he encourages Hibbert to drink some whiskey. This, he upholds, is the only thing that enables him to keep from going crazy. In a separate conversation with Osborne about his first few years in the military, Stanhope even confesses: “There was only two ways of breaking the strain. One was pretending I was ill—and going home; the other was this. [He holds up his glass.]” Taken in conjunction with his conversation with Hibbert, this solidifies the fact that Stanhope actively uses alcohol as a coping mechanism, suggesting that the only difference between someone like him and someone like Hibbert is that he’s willing to numb himself to the world in order to preserve his ability to go on functioning despite his fear.

Of all the characters in Journey’s End, Osborne and Raleigh are perhaps the most emotionally well-balanced. They don’t use alcohol as a psychological crutch, and they don’t adopt escapist attitudes. However, they’re also the only two characters in the play to die. While Sherriff certainly doesn’t condemn their bravery, there’s no overlooking the fact that none of the other characters lose their lives over the course of the play. It’s only to be expected, then, that the audience might wonder if Osborne and Raleigh’s brave response to their dismal situation is almost unnatural, since it involves an acceptance of the unnatural violence of war. Although the positive attitude they display is sought after and praised in the military, it also is what leads them into danger, since their willingness to carry out their duties is what encourages a colonel to choose them as the only two men fit to lead a particularly risky raid on the German trenches. In a sense, then, their acceptance of their own fear only invites more violence and danger into their lives. The fact that they are the only characters to die ultimately calls into question what kind of response is appropriate when it comes to war and fear. Responding levelheadedly to the insanity of violence, Sherriff intimates, is unnatural, whereas acting out of self-preservation is a natural and beneficial human instinct—even if doing so makes a person appear dysfunctional or cowardly.

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Fear and Coping ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Fear and Coping appears in each act of Journey’s End. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Fear and Coping Quotes in Journey’s End

Below you will find the important quotes in Journey’s End related to the theme of Fear and Coping.
Act 1 Quotes

OSBORNE: He’s a long way the best company commander we’ve got.

HARDY: Oh, he’s a good chap, I know. But I never did see a youngster put away the whisky he does. D’you know, the last time we were out resting at Valennes he came to supper with us and drank a whole bottle in one hour fourteen minutes—we timed him.

OSBORNE: I suppose it amused everybody; I suppose everybody cheered him on, and said what a splendid achievement it was.

HARDY: He didn’t want any ‘cheering’ on—

OSBORNE: No, but everybody thought it was a big thing to do. [There is a pause.] Didn’t they?

HARDY: Well, you can’t help, somehow, admiring a fellow who can do that—and then pick out his own hat all by himself and walk home—

OSBORNE: When a boy like Stanhope gets a reputation out here for drinking, he turns into a kind of freak show exhibit. People pay with a bottle of whisky for the morbid curiosity of seeing him drink it.

Related Characters: Osborne (speaker), Hardy (speaker), Stanhope
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

OSBORNE: You may find he’s—he’s a little bit quick-tempered.

RALEIGH [laughing]: Oh, I know old Dennis’s temper! I remember once at school he caught some chaps in a study with a bottle of whisky. Lord! the roof nearly blew off. He gave them a dozen each with a cricket stump.

[OSBORNE laughs]

He was so keen on the fellows in the house keeping fit. He was frightfully down on smoking—and that sort of thing.

OSBORNE: You must remember he’s commanded this company for a long time—through all sorts of rotten times. It’s—it’s a big strain on a man. […] If you notice a—difference in Stanhope—you’ll know it’s only the strain—

Related Characters: Raleigh (speaker), Osborne (speaker), Stanhope
Page Number: 19
Explanation and Analysis:

It was all right at first. When I went home on leave after six months it was jolly fine to feel I’d done a little to make her pleased. [He takes a gulp of his drink.] It was after I came back here—in that awful affair on Vimy Ridge. I knew I’d go mad if I didn’t break the strain. I couldn’t bear being fully conscious all the time—you’ve felt that, Uncle, haven’t you? […] There were only two ways of breaking the strain. One was pretending I was ill—and going home; the other was this. [He holds up his glass.] […] I thought it all out. It’s a slimy thing to go home if you’re not really ill, isn’t it?

Related Characters: Stanhope (speaker), Osborne
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

OSBORNE: I believe Raleigh’ll go on liking you—and looking up to you—through everything. There’s something very deep, and rather fine, about hero-worship.

STANHOPE: Hero-worship be damned! [He pauses, then goes on, in a strange, high-pitched voice] You know, Uncle, I’m an awful fool. I’m captain of this company. What’s that bloody little prig of a boy matter? D’you see? He’s a little prig. Wants to write home and tell Madge all about me. Well, he won’t; d’you see, Uncle? He won’t write! Censorship! I censor his letters—cross out all he says about me.

OSBORNE: You can’t read his letters.

STANHOPE [dreamily]: Cross out all he says about me. Then we all go west in the big attack—and she goes on thinking I’m a fine fellow for ever—and ever—and ever. [He pours out a drink, murmuring ‘Ever—and ever—and ever.’]

Related Characters: Stanhope (speaker), Raleigh
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Scene 1 Quotes

OSBORNE: I remember up at Wipers we had a man shot when he was out on patrol. Just at dawn. We couldn’t get him in that night. He lay out there groaning all day. Next night three of our men crawled out to get him in. It was so near the German trenches that they could have shot our fellows one by one. But, when our men began dragging the wounded man back over the rough ground, a big German officer stood up in their trenches and called out. ‘Carry him!’—and our fellows stood up and carried the man back and the German officer fired some lights for them to see by.

RALEIGH: How topping!

OSBORNE: Next day we blew each other’s trenches to blazes.

RALEIGH: It all seems rather—silly, doesn’t it?

Related Characters: Raleigh (speaker), Osborne (speaker)
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:

I was feeling bad. I forgot Raleigh was out there with Trotter. I’d forgotten all about him. I was sleepy. I just knew something beastly had happened. Then he came in with Trotter—and looked at me. After coming in out of the night air, this place must have reeked of candle-grease, and rats—and whisky. One thing a boy like that can’t stand is a smell that isn’t fresh. He looked at me as if I’d hit him between the eyes—as if I’d spat on him—

Related Characters: Stanhope (speaker), Raleigh, Osborne, Trotter
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 2, Scene 2 Quotes

S-M: Well, then, sir. If they don’t get through the first day, they’ll attack the next day and the next—

STANHOPE: They’re bound to.

S-M: Then oughtn’t we to fix up something about, well [he gropes for the right words]—er—falling back?

STANHOPE: There’s no need to—you see, this company’s a lot better than A and B Companies on either side of us.

S-M: Quite, sir.

STANHOPE: Well, then, if anyone breaks, A and B will break before we do. As long as we stick here when the other companies have given way, we can fire into the Boche as they try and get through the gaps on our sides—we’ll make a hell of a mess of them. We might delay the advance a whole day.

S-M [diffidently]: Yes, sir, but what ’appens when the Boche ’as all got round the back of us?

STANHOPE: Then we advance and win the war.

Related Characters: Stanhope (speaker), The Sergeant-Major (speaker)
Page Number: 51
Explanation and Analysis:

Stanhope! I’ve tried like hell—I swear I have. Ever since I came out here I’ve hated and loathed it. Every sound up there makes me all—cold and sick. I’m different to—to the others—you don’t understand. It’s got worse and worse, and now I can’t bear it any longer. I’ll never go up those steps again—into the line—with the men looking at me—and knowing—I’d rather die here. [He is sitting on STANHOPE’S bed, crying without effort to restrain himself.]

Related Characters: Hibbert (speaker), Stanhope
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

If you went—and left Osborne and Trotter and Raleigh and all those men up there to do your work—could you ever look a man straight in the face again—in all your life! [There is silence again.] You may be wounded. Then you can go home and feel proud—and if you’re killed you—you won’t have to stand this hell any more. I might have fired just now. If I had you would have been dead now. But you’re still alive—with a straight fighting chance of coming through. Take the chance, old chap, and stand in with Osborne and Trotter and Raleigh. Don’t you think it worth standing in with men like that?—when you know they all feel like you do—in their hearts—and just go on sticking it because they know it’s—it’s the only thing a decent man can do.

Related Characters: Stanhope (speaker), Raleigh, Osborne, Hibbert, Trotter
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

OSBORNE: Haven’t you read it?

TROTTER [scornfully]: No!

OSBORNE: You ought to. [Reads]
How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale?
How cheerfully he seems to grin
And neatly spread his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!

TROTTER [after a moment’s thought]: I don’t see no point in that.

OSBORNE [wearily]: Exactly. That’s just the point.

Related Characters: Osborne (speaker), Trotter (speaker)
Page Number: 63
Explanation and Analysis:
Act 3, Scene 2 Quotes

RALEIGH: Good God! Don’t you understand? How can I sit down and eat that—when—[his voice is nearly breaking]—when Osborne’s—lying—out there—

[STANHOPE rises slowly. His eyes are wide and staring; he is fighting for breath, and his words come brokenly.]

STANHOPE: My God! You bloody little swine! You think I don’t care—you think you’re the only soul that cares!

RALEIGH: And yet you can sit there and drink champagne—and smoke cigars—

STANHOPE: The one man I could trust—my best friend—the one man I could talk to as man to man—who understood everything—and you don’t think I care—

RALEIGH: But how can you when—?

STANHOPE: To forget, you little fool—to forget! D’you understand? To forget! You think there’s no limit to what a man can bear?

Related Characters: Stanhope (speaker), Raleigh (speaker), Osborne
Page Number: 85
Explanation and Analysis: