The Wars

The Wars

by

Timothy Findley

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Eyes Symbol Icon

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

The The Wars quotes below all refer to the symbol of Eyes. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Trauma and War Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Australia edition of The Wars published in 1995.
Part 2, Chapter 4 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Robert Ross, Willie Poole
Related Symbols: The Four Elements, Eyes
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:
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Eyes Symbol Timeline in The Wars

The timeline below shows where the symbol Eyes appears in The Wars. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Chapter 27
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...declines Regis’s offer to light a lantern because he does not want to see his eyes. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 29
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
...cars” which haunt her dreams, and she begins to wear dark glasses to hide her eyes. As Mrs. Ross deteriorates, Miss Davenport moves into the Ross’s home to support her friend. (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 4
Trauma and War Theme Icon
...his way out. Through the fog, Robert spots another soldier lying nearby before he is blinded by the mud’s natural chlorine. (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Eventually, Poole and Levitt catch up to Robert and help him up. Once his eyes have cleared, Robert looks back and realizes that the entire field is full of dead... (full context)
Part 3
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
...the crater, looking at him through a pair of binoculars. He can see the German’s eyes when he puts the binoculars down, noticing that the soldier is around his age. At... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
...and snow, forcing Miss Davenport to walk outside with her during storms. She closes her eyes when she passes by acquaintances she knows on the streets and walks with a stick... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 8
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...then, Captain Leather begins to struggle to his feet and Robert shoots him between the eyes. Robert spends the next half-hour killing all of the mules and horses who are suffering,... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 9
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
...“agonizing cry.” She calls out for help and tells Mr. Ross that she has gone blind. The narration describes Robert’s framed portrait in the family’s drawing room fading into darkness. (full context)