Eyes represent the intrinsic connection and vulnerability that human beings share, as well as the dehumanizing guilt and shame associated with World War I. After having to shoot and kill a horse with a broken leg aboard the S.S. Massanabie, Robert Ross does not want to turn on a lantern for fear of seeing Regis the picket’s eyes, knowing that he will see his own shame reflected back at him in the young man’s eyes. During the war, just before Robert mistakenly kills an unarmed German soldier in preemptive defense of his men, the soldier lowers his binoculars and Robert looks directly at him. This eye contact is a simple but significant moment of vulnerability shared by two young men, as they are both able to put a face to the depersonalized enemy they have been fighting throughout the war. This humanization makes Robert’s mistake of shooting the soldier all the more guilt-inducing and shows the enduring connection between people even in the midst of a violent conflict.
Mrs. Ross’s eyes also play a significant role in the story. After Robert goes off to fight in Europe, she begins wearing dark glasses and closing her eyes when she passes by people on the street, an outward representation of the guilt she feels over her country sending young men like her son off to die in the war. When she receives the news that Robert is missing in action, Mrs. Ross is so distraught that she claims to go blind. Even though she and Robert left each other on bad terms before he enlisted in the army and are now thousands of miles away, the shame-induced covering of her eyes and the eventual loss of her eyesight show that she has remained viscerally connected to his struggles.
Eyes Quotes in The Wars
From the gap, when Robert’s eyes had cleared, he cast a single look back to where the man had been. He saw that the whole field was filled with floating shapes. The only sounds were the sounds of feeding and of wings. And of rafts.