The Return of the Soldier

by

Rebecca West

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The Return of the Soldier: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Chris describes the country walk that took him from his Uncle Ambrose’s house to Monkey Island. He particularly remembers a white hawthorn tree overlooking the path to the ferry. On Monkey Island sat a green-domed white house, the Monkey Island Inn. When Chris rang a bell hung on a post, Margaret would emerge from the house wearing a white dress. On her way down to the river, she always stopped to pick and crush a walnut leaf, enjoying the sweet scent. Then she would shade her near-sighted eyes and, seeing Chris, row the small punt across the river. Then Chris would row them back, and they’d sit in the boat and talk. Margaret’s shyness would fade as she talked; Chris praises her sharp mind and tender heart.
Chris’s memories of Monkey Island are marked by that place’s natural beauty—a beauty that’s less cultivated than the gardens of Baldry Place. His memories of Margaret are closely connected to that beauty. In contrast to Kitty, who likes to control her environment, Margaret takes a frank, uncomplicated delight in her environment, even taking every opportunity to enjoy its scents. Margaret’s delight pleases Chris, suggesting he’s more aligned with her way of seeing the world than with Kitty’s.
Themes
Nostalgia, Escapism, and Reality Theme Icon
Social Class, Beauty, and Humanity Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Eventually Chris and Margaret go up to find her father, Mr. Allington, tending to his poultry or rabbits, and they all sit outside having tea together. As dusk falls, Margaret’s beauty becomes more indistinct yet all the more striking to Chris, and he feels closer to her than ever. Somehow, the twilight’s obscuring of her features assures Chris that their love is timeless.
Margaret’s obscured beauty suggests that, even in his youth, Chris didn’t always see the world as it truly was, but rather saw what he wanted to see—in effect, the same thing he’s doing now by forgetting the present.
Themes
Nostalgia, Escapism, and Reality Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Chris’s life continued in this way for some time, though he doesn’t remember exactly how long. On the last day that he can remember, Chris bicycles to Monkey Island in beautiful summer weather and finds Margaret alone there, Mr. Allington having gone to town on business. Chris tries to coax Margaret to take a boat trip with him, but she feels duty-bound to stay on the island, in case any visitors drop by the inn (as in fact they do). Finally, he draws her away on a walk to the wilder part of the island, where they end up embracing in the moonlight.
Chris’s recollection of the season on Monkey Island has a timeless quality, giving it a romantic, nostalgic air. Margaret, and Chris’s romance with her, is once again associated with natural wildness as opposed to the artificial beauty that characterizes Kitty and life at Baldry Court.
Themes
Nostalgia, Escapism, and Reality Theme Icon
Social Class, Beauty, and Humanity Theme Icon
After nightfall, Chris and Margaret cross the lawn to a little Greek-style temple, which had been built by the property’s 18th-century owner. Chris places Margaret in a niche above the altar, where she’s illuminated by the moonlight. Seeing her thus, he again feels that his love is changeless, and he tells her that.
Margaret’s position above the altar symbolizes Chris’s idealization of her. Instead of seeing her according to reality, he sees her as timeless and changeless. Thus, even in his idyllic youth, Chris’s love for Margaret had an escapist element.
Themes
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Social Class, Beauty, and Humanity Theme Icon
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In Jenny’s telling, the Greek temple dissolves, and suddenly Chris is lying again among the barbed wire of the trenches, the sky is full of explosions, and the stretcher bearers are hurting Chris’s back. In the drawing room at Baldry Court, Chris blows out the candles, then pauses and tells Jenny that if she’d seen Margaret’s beauty 15 years ago, she would understand why he can’t repudiate her now. Jenny agrees, and they take hands affirmatively.
The dissolving of the idealized temple scene into a battlefield scene intentionally muddles the story’s sense of time and reality: it’s unclear whether this is Chris’s memory or Jenny’s imagining. Either way, it shows the fragility of the line between nostalgia and reality. It also shows that the trauma of warfare constantly lurks, confusing one’s sense of reality—even for people like Jenny who weren’t at the front themselves.
Themes
Nostalgia, Escapism, and Reality Theme Icon
The Traumas of Modernity Theme Icon