In Journey’s End, R.C. Sherriff showcases the effect of war on personal relationships. In particular, he focuses on how wartime power dynamics and interpersonal attitudes alter the ways people interact with one another. This is most recognizable in Stanhope and Raleigh’s friendship, which suffers because of the various stressors of military life. For the majority of his young adult life, Raleigh has looked up to Stanhope, a classmate who eventually goes off to war and becomes a captain. While Stanhope is off in the trenches of World War I, Raleigh stays behind and finishes school, all the while worshiping Stanhope as a hero. Later, when Raleigh joins the military, he is placed under Stanhope’s command. But although he’s ecstatic to join his hero’s infantry, he soon discovers that his relationship with Stanhope will be quite different during wartime. Not only has the war taken a significant toll on Stanhope’s wellbeing, but his high position in the military also forces him to treat Raleigh with rough indifference. In this way, Sherriff suggests that human companionship is highly contextual, something that grows according to the emotional circumstances that define the immediate environment. Like human beings themselves, then, relationships aren’t fixed or unchanging, but dynamic and adaptive.
When Raleigh first reports to duty as an officer in World War I, he’s overjoyed to have been assigned to Stanhope’s infantry. He knows Stanhope from before the war, when the captain was a rugby hero several years his senior. Raleigh and Stanhope got to know each other and developed a friendship of sorts during the summers, since their fathers were friends. Stanhope also became romantically involved with Raleigh’s sister, who is now waiting for him to return from the war. Since this period, Raleigh has looked up to Stanhope and imagined him as a valorous captain. But what he doesn’t know is that, while Stanhope is indeed a well-respected soldier, he has also turned into a gruff and pessimistic alcoholic.
Upon arriving in the trenches, Raleigh speaks with Osborne—the second-in-command—and learns of Stanhope’s transformation. Osborne is fond of Stanhope, but he also recognizes that the war has had a harsh effect on him. He warns Raleigh that he shouldn’t expect his relationship with Stanhope to pick up where it left off. “You mustn’t expect to find [Stanhope]—quite the same,” he says, and then suggests that Stanhope has become “quick-tempered.” Raleigh brushes this off, saying, “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.” Raleigh doesn’t seem to grasp that Stanhope has changed, instead assuming that his old friend, who has become an alcoholic, is still someone who would lose his temper over catching his subordinates drinking. Raleigh’s conception of Stanhope is based on a frame of reference that can’t effectively be applied to the current circumstances. After all, the way Stanhope interacted with people as a boarding school role model has little in common with how he must now act as a military captain trying to command soldiers in the trenches.
Osborne, for his part, picks up on Raleigh’s naïve assumption that he’ll be able to approach his relationship with Stanhope the same way he used to. “You must remember he’s commanded this company for a long time,” Osborne says of Stanhope. “It’s—it’s a big strain on a man.” Osborne tries to emphasize that people change according to what’s happening in their lives—and if a person changes, it follows that their relationships will also change. Stanhope himself seems to understand this, which is why he’s unhappy that Raleigh has been assigned to his infantry; he knows he has changed for the worse, and he comprehends that this means his relationship with Raleigh will most likely change for the worse, too. Speaking to Osborne soon after Raleigh arrives, Stanhope says, “Didn’t you see him sitting there at supper?—staring at me?—and wondering? He’s up in those trenches now—still wondering—and beginning to understand.”
Of course, there’s another reason Stanhope doesn’t want Raleigh to “understand” how he has changed: he fears Raleigh will write to his sister and tell her how wretched Stanhope has become. To ensure that this doesn’t happen, he decides to censor Raleigh’s letters. When he tells him his plan to do this, their tense conversation shows how these new wartime circumstances have altered the way they interact. “D’you understand an order? Give me that letter!” Stanhope says. “Dennis—I’m—” Raleigh sputters, but Stanhope cuts him off, saying, “Don’t ‘Dennis’ me! Stanhope’s my name! You’re not at school! Go and inspect your rifles!” This exchange exemplifies how both Stanhope and Raleigh struggle to navigate the new terms of their relationship.
By examining the painful transformation of Stanhope and Raleigh’s relationship, Sherriff makes it clear that friendship and human interaction is greatly dependent upon the surrounding interpersonal context. However, while relationships are certainly fluid and adaptive, Sherriff suggests that there are certain bonds that are more resilient than others. Osborne proposes this idea to Stanhope, assuring the captain that, though his relationship with Raleigh may indeed change, this doesn’t necessarily mean the war will completely ruin their connection. “I believe Raleigh’ll go on liking you,” Osborne says, “There’s something very deep, and rather fine, about hero-worship.” Although Raleigh certainly notices how the emotional and psychological effect of the war has influenced both Stanhope as an individual and Raleigh’s relationship with Stanhope, his admiration of the struggling captain will enable him to “go on liking” him. In this way, Sherriff shows readers that just because human relationships change according to their surrounding circumstances doesn’t mean they aren’t also resilient. Though trying environments—like those presented by war—force people to adjust the way they interact with one another, this doesn’t have to ruin what lies at the core of a relationship. In the final scene of Journey’s End, Stanhope treats the gravely injured Raleigh with gentleness and care, and the audience sees that these two men have maintained their connection even if the context of their relationship has profoundly shifted. With this, Sherriff advances a nuanced take on human interaction, one that allows for both change and constancy.
Friendship and Human Interaction ThemeTracker
Friendship and Human Interaction Quotes in Journey’s End
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.
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.
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—
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.’]
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—
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.]
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.
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?