Pat Barker “writing back” to Wilfred Owen

Contributed by Ann-Marie Einhaus, Northumbria University

This is a little exercise I have used for outreach sessions with sixth-form pupils who came to visit the university for a taster day. The exercise is based on a comparison of a passage from Pat Barker’s novel Regeneration and Wilfred Owen’s poem “Disabled”. The passage in question is the one where Sarah, one of the civilian characters in the novel, encounters a number of severely disabled veterans during a hospital visit (see Pat Barker, Regeneration, London: Penguin, 1992, p. 160). The idea is to get pupils to read both the poem and the passage from the novel and compare the two, with a view to understanding how Barker rewrites and responds to Owen’s depiction of the disabled war veteran from a civilian (and female) perspective. Questions I ask the students are:

  • What in Barker’s passageĀ is borrowed directly from Owen?
  • What does she change?
  • From whose perspective do we see things in Owen’s poem, and whose in Barker’s novel?
  • How does the veteran feel in Owen’s poem and how does Sarah feel in the novel? Give examples of words that suggest mood.
  • Can you think of reasons why she might have changed things?
  • How are women portrayed in each of the texts?