The Wars

The Wars

by

Timothy Findley

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Horses Symbol Icon

As horses are a traditional symbol of freedom, Robert Ross’s exposure to their captivity and mistreatment as military animals parallels his gradual loss of innocence throughout the novel and highlights World War I’s devaluation of both human and animal lives. Before shipping off to Europe, Robert is assigned to a detail that breaks wild mustangs. During this time, he witnesses Captain Taffler and the Swede sexually role-playing as a horse and a rider at Wet Goods brothel, a sight that perverts Robert’s innocent association with horses and one of many instances that tarnish his moral and sexual innocence while at war. Another incident occurs on the ship journey to England, when Robert takes over Harris’s duty of overseeing the horses on board. The animals are kept in filthy, cramped conditions on the ship, causing one of them to break its leg. Both Robert and Regis the picket are deeply disturbed when Robert is forced to shoot this horse in order to end its suffering, highlighting the injustice of forcing horses to be military animals, as the horse would not have been needlessly injured or killed this way in the wild. And, much like Mrs. Ross’s killing of Rowena’s pet rabbits, Robert’s shooting of this horse further distances him from his childhood naiveté.

Just as Rodwell is traumatized and driven to suicide when he is forced to watch soldiers torturing small animals, Robert feels pushed to commit drastic measures as he witnesses the army’s ongoing cruel treatment of military horses. During the war, as soldiers sink into the mud and drown to death in the trenches, their horses die along with them. Robert is horrified by the senselessness of forcing these inherently nonviolent creatures into the brutality of a manmade conflict, believing that “If an animal had done this—we would call it mad and shoot it.” When Captain Leather refuses to let Robert free their company’s horses and mules from shellfire, Robert takes justice into his own hands by disobeying orders, killing Leather, and committing a series of war crimes in attempts to free these animals from their fate of being burned alive. The suffering and painful deaths that horses are forced to endure as military animals demonstrate the inhumane reality of dragging animals into manmade conflicts in which they have no understanding or stake. Their mistreatment is a symbolic representation of the war’s trivialization of life, a reality which spurs Robert’s loss of innocence as he becomes disillusioned and maddened by the violence and moral corruption around him.

Horses Quotes in The Wars

The The Wars quotes below all refer to the symbol of Horses. 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 1 Quotes

The mud. There are no good similes. Mud must be a Flemish word. Mud was invented here. Mudland might have been its name. When it rains…the water rises at you out of the ground. It rises from your footprints—and an army marching over a field can cause a flood. In 1916, it was said that you “waded to the front.” Men and horses sank from sight. They drowned in mud. Their graves, it seemed, just dug themselves and pulled them down.

Related Characters: Robert Ross
Related Symbols: Horses, The Four Elements
Page Number: 76
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 5, Chapter 8 Quotes

He got out the Webley, meaning to shoot the animals not yet dead, but he paused for the barest moment looking at the whole scene laid out before him and his anger rose to such a pitch that he feared he was going to go over into madness. He stood where the gate had been and he thought: “If an animal had done this—we would call it mad and shoot it,” and at that precise moment Captain Leather rose to his knees and began to struggle to his feet. Robert shot him between the eyes.

Related Characters: Robert Ross, Captain Leather, Devlin
Related Symbols: Horses
Page Number: 203
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 5, Chapter 13 Quotes

Robert called out very distinctly (and there are twenty witnesses to this): “We shall not be taken.”

It was the “we” that doomed him. To Mickle, it signified that Robert had an accomplice. Maybe more than one. Mickle thought he knew how to get “them” out.

Related Characters: Robert Ross (speaker), Major Mickle
Related Symbols: Horses
Page Number: 210-211
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Wars PDF

Horses Symbol Timeline in The Wars

The timeline below shows where the symbol Horses appears in The Wars. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1, Prologue
Trauma and War Theme Icon
...Ross, a soldier who has been wandering alone for over a week, sits watching a black mare who is standing in the middle of some railroad tracks with a black dog at... (full context)
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Robert comes across an abandoned train with cattle cars full of horses. In anticipation of the encroaching fire from the warehouse, Robert sets the one hundred and... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 1
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...answering. These men will sometimes weep or exclaim “that bastard!” when asked specifically about the horses. It is revealed that Robert Ross somehow died in a fire. Many other soldiers also... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 3
Trauma and War Theme Icon
...was vaguely skeptical of doing so. Findley then describes the image of Robert on the black mare from the prologue intruding into the frame of this photograph (and into the reader’s mind),... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
...alludes to the horrible circumstances of his death by fire and “the story of the horses.” She warns the interviewer to be careful in searching out Robert’s story, warning that it... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 6
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
...keep in their stable, while Stuart is in the yard playing with Meg, the family’s pony, instead of supervising his sister. Rowena fails to regain consciousness and dies on Monday, the... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 13
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...summer of 1915, Robert is assigned to a detail whose job is to break wild mustangs who are intended as mounts for Canadian officers in France. After the horses are corralled,... (full context)
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...Clifford come upon a shirtless figure throwing stones at a row of bottles, with a horse and a dog by his side. Clifford tells Robert that the man is Eugene Taffler,... (full context)
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Eventually, Robert and Clifford find the missing mustangs. On their way back, Robert thinks that Taffler may be the “model” he has been... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 15
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
...of “spoiled goods.” On their way into Wet Goods, Robert is surprised to see Taffler’s horse and dog hitched outside the brothel. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 17
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...spy hole cut into the wall. He sees two men having intercourse, role-playing as a horse and a rider. Robert looks away in horror, realizing that the man being ridden is... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 18
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
...the train ride there, he is struck by the sight of native Indians standing on horses by the railroad track and wishes that the passengers would wave to them. Passing through... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 21
Trauma and War Theme Icon
...Harris. A storm appears to be brewing, and there is a commotion on deck when horses are unexpectedly crane-lifted onto the ship as cargo. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 23
Trauma and War Theme Icon
...company commander, appoints Robert as Harris’s successor in overseeing the detail that cares for the horses onboard. (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 24
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Robert is horrified by the cramped, manure-filled, fly-infested stalls in the hold where the horses are kept. The Battalion C.O. is outraged that men and animals are being transported in... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 25
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...night, Battery Sergeant-Major Joyce comes to Robert’s bunk to tell him that one of the horses has broken its leg. Robert will have to shoot the horse, since he is a... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 26
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Robert panics and becomes ill over the thought of shooting the wounded horse because he has never killed a living creature. He wonders why B.S.M. Joyce, who is... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 27
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Robert and B.S.M. Joyce reach the S.S. Massanabie’s hold, where the horses are packed in tightly and given no exercise besides trying to maintain their balance. The... (full context)
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...effective. Remembering a picture he had seen as a boy of a cowboy shooting its horse behind the ear, he positions himself and shoots the fallen horse in the head. (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
Robert’s first shot fails to kill the horse. B.S.M. Joyce advises him to be “cool and quick,” but he panics and shoots the... (full context)
Part 1, Chapter 28
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
From the quay, Robert and Harris watch the soldiers round up the horses and drive them toward the nearest street. The townspeople excitedly run out of their houses... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 1
Trauma and War Theme Icon
...are terrible, as the soldiers are surrounded by the mud-filled flats of Flanders. Men and horses frequently sink into the mud and drown to death, contaminating the water in the ditches... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 3
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...junior officer Levitt emerges with Poole’s bugle and tells Robert that the orderly and his horse drowned to death because Robert had led the men on a wrong turn through a... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 5
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
The gap in the dike has widened to the point that the soldiers and their horses must swim across. When they reach the other side, Robert falls off his horse into... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 6
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...another man named Roots start on convoy, where each officer oversees seventy-five men and ninety-five horses. When there is fighting (a “show”), the soldiers form columns to transport the ammunition. The... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 8
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...by changing the subject to animals and bonding with Levitt over their shared love of horses. Rodwell, who illustrates children’s books, thinks of his toad as a companion and jokes that... (full context)
Part 2, Chapter 12
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...a close friend of Julie and Barbara’s brother Clive, as they both loved to ride horses. Juliet says that Barbara was attracted to Jamie’s heroism and athleticism, and that she was... (full context)
Part 3
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...of the wires are down. The wounded are being led back to Wytsbrouk by a horse railway. German shells continue to land nearby as he waits to send his message. These... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
...to attack. Countless troops are lost as fire storms burn and explode men and their horses along the front. It is rumored that the Germans have invented a flamethrower that is... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 6
Trauma and War Theme Icon
...Robert joins an ammunition convoy riding to the front with thirty-five mules and one hundred horses. They pass by the marshes where Robert nearly drowned the previous winter. At a fork... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...are no birds flying overhead. Suddenly, a bomb explodes, and he is thrown off his horse.  Men and animals run in every direction as planes fill the air and bombs fall... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 7
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...of an ammunition train. It is raining, and the mud forces him walk alongside his horse. Suddenly, the horse stops and refuses to proceed, and Robert sees an officer’s dead body... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 8
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...asks Captain Leather if he can make a strategic retreat with his new supply of horses and mules so that the animals can be saved from certain death in the incessant... (full context)
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...can no longer stand it. Devlin agrees to help him disobey orders and save the horses and mules. Captain Leather sees them releasing the animals from his office and runs outside,... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...him between the eyes. Robert spends the next half-hour killing all of the mules and horses who are suffering, after which he tears the lapels from his uniform and leaves the... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 10
Trauma and War Theme Icon
...of gasoline spill out and cause the fire to spread through the town where men, horses, and equipment all go up in flames. (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 11
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
...He walks with them down the road and sets the twelve cattle cars full of horses free. At 1 a.m., a red moon rises as Robert rides on the black mare... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 12
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
...“muddled.” Some say that Robert galloped through La Chodrelle like a “raving cowboy” with the horses and deliberately trampled a cordon of soldiers. This account does not match up with Robert’s... (full context)
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Blame, Revenge, and Justice Theme Icon
Honor, Duty, and Heroism Theme Icon
A more likely version of events is that Robert and the horses made a detour around the woods near La Chodrelle and woke the troops of Major... (full context)
Part 5, Chapter 13
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
The men find Robert, the horses, and the dog in the abandoned barns that he had first seen while walking to... (full context)
Part 5, Epilogue
Trauma and War Theme Icon
Loss of Innocence Theme Icon
...on your coat is a photograph of Rowena on the back of the Ross family’s pony, Meg, with Robert holding her in place. On the back of the photo is written... (full context)