Abby Hayes Teacher: Jolyon Pike Word count: 1,320
Analysing aspects of form, structure and language, explore the ways that Barker creates and uses the character (Prior) in the novel Regeneration
Billy Prior is the most prominent fictional character throughout the novel Regeneration (and the rest of the trilogy).
He is used, alongside Rivers, by Barker at the beginning of the novel as an example of a doctor/patient relationship in the war situation at the time, involving the treatment of soldiers diagnosed with things such as war neurosis. He is used in contrast with Sassoon, as Sassoon and Rivers connect on an equal level from the start, almost immediate friends, but Prior does the opposite in that he opposes Rivers as a ‘doctor’ figure in every way, due to things such as his views on class and his own personal experiences. Barker created Prior as he is a blank canvas character, meaning she was free of the restraints of a historically accurate character’s own views and actions at the time, themes that are explored through Prior include women during wartime, class and the effects of shell shock on men.
The subject of class and judgement, in the case of Prior, is brought forward as soon as chapter 6. Rivers hears Prior’s voice for the first time and the way that Prior speaks gives Rivers a completely different view of him in comparison to when he was mute. Prior is first introduced in chapter 5, and the audience are immediately given the idea that he is an unpleasant character, before he is even presented, by way of how another character sees him; Sister Rogers. The chapter is from Rivers’ point of view, and it is his own thought that introduces the way Prior is perceived; ”It was unlike Sister Rogers to take dislike to a patient, but there was no mistaking the animosity in her voice”. Just the fact the someone who does not even talk can make an apparently good natured nurse extremely hostile towards them implies that there is something strongly dislikable and negative about the character and so this gives the audience an immediate opinion on Prior. When Rivers himself meets Prior in this chapter, for the first time, he describes him as having a ‘supercilious’ expression on him, which would have implied to Rivers that Prior was of a superior class. This is the reason that hearing Prior’s voice for the first time, in chapter 6, changes Rivers’ perception of him so dramatically.
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Rivers then describes him as “A little, spitting, sharp-boned alley cat” making him appear defensive and even dangerous, maybe. The way that Rivers’ perception of Prior is altered by Prior’s speech shows how commonly people made links between class and speech during this time period, with Prior it was his Northern accent that made the link for Rivers. Prior’s defensiveness of his class and background is explained through his parents visit to Craiglockhart when Rivers meets his fairly dysfunctional parents. Prior’s father disagreed with his son joining the war effort and it soon becomes apparent that there is significant tension between Prior and his father. The way Priors father talks about his son’s suffering of shell shock, for example “He’d get a damn sight more sympathy from me if he had a bullet up his arse”, soon makes Rivers defensive of Prio. Rivers meeting Priors parents plays an important role in him getting to know and understand Prior’s past and upbringing and explains some of Priors defensive behavior. Prior is conscious of the ways in which lower classes are judged, and despises it. This becomes increasingly apparent throughout the novel and at one point he even says to Rivers that to be in his position he would have had to attend “Oxford or Cambridge” and is contradicted by Rivers when he replies that he didn’t attend either.
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Prior’s character changes and grows considerably throughout the novel. At the beginning of the novel he is extremely against the situation which he is in during sessions with Rivers, Rivers being the doctor and him being the patient, which links to his feelings towards the treatment of him as someone of a lower class but also because throughout the novel it becomes clear that he likes to have control over situations. These feelings are shown from the beginning when, in their second meeting, Prior states “I don’t see why it has to be like this anyway” “All the questions from you and all the answers from me.”. But throughout the novel their relationship grows, this is shown at one point in chapter 9, when Prior decides to return to Rivers’ office in the evening to apologise for his behaviour earlier that day during one of their sessions. This shows how his feelings towards Rivers are slowly changing, and Rivers then offers to try hypnotism with Prior to regain his memory, this is something Prior had wanted to try for a while and Rivers’ offer to do this for Prior shows a further development in their relationship in that they are starting to be more than just civil with each other, but also going beyond that. Prior even notices a change in Rivers after Rivers says to Prior that he too could also break down if the pressure were bad enough, to which Prior replies “Did the wallpaper just speak?” speaking about when Prior has referred to Rivers as “a strip of empathetic wallpaper”, showing that his perception of Rivers has changed, he no longer sees him as “a strip of wall paper”. And at towards the end of the novel, when Prior has been given permanent home service and is saying goodbye to Rivers, he thanks him, saying “Thanks for putting up with me, I was an absolute pig” and even says he will write to him, showing that he intends to continue their relationship, which they do throughout the remaining novels in the trilogy.
The subject of women during wartime is also introduced through Prior, by his eventual girlfriend, Sarah Lumb, and her friends/workmates. Prior meets Sarah and her friends when he goes out for a walk and decides to get a drink at a pub, already an event is introduced that would have been unlikely before the war; a group of women drinking at a pub. Prior overhears the women’s conversation and notices their appearance, which was common within women who worked in munitions factories, of yellow skin and coppery hair. Through his relationship with Sarah the audience learns of the men and women’s attitudes towards each other during the time of war, with men on leave from the front regarding women simply as a form of sexual pleasure. It is shown that both genders are lonely with their spouses often being so far away from them. It is made clear through Sarah and her friends that during the wartime there were many women who had little to no regard for their men at the front when it came to sleeping with a soldier on leave.
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Overall the character of Prior plays a very important role in Barkers portrayal of life as a war hospital patient in her novel Regeneration as his character is vital in the exploration of themes such as class, treatment of shell shock and masculinity especially. This is mostly due to his ever growing doctor/patient relationship with Rivers and the discussion of these themes between them. His class plays an important role as do his hopes of being a successful politician as this explores the diversity of his character, despite his class, during a time which people were often judged by where they were from and how they spoke, especially at war. Barker is able to use this character to her advantage as he allows her to explore themes that she may not have been able to explore as openly through other character that had to be portrayed historically accurate, such as Siegfried Sassoon.