Essay, Research Paper: Wars And Stones

Literature: World War

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Everyone is faced with struggles in life, whether physical or emotional. These
struggles inevitably shape an individual’s personality and outlook on life.
Timothy Findley’s novels, The Wars and Stones, suggest that the consequences
of struggles in life result in a journey of self- discovery. War exists in the
character’s physical and psychological accounts of the horror of life. In the
novel The Wars, Robert Ross actually goes to war and fights in World War I . In
the novel Stones, Minna Joyce encounters a war in her life as a child, trying to
survive on the streets. These physical encounters with war lead to a
psychological change in the characters and their perception of living. Robert
and Minna’s experiences make them want to escape and help others overcome the
terrible war, in their own lives. Furthermore, experiencing these struggles
leads to the character’s ultimate realization and self-discovery of life and
of themselves. The horrors of war which Robert endures are instrumental in his
psychological change. Minna’s experiences in life, in death and her internal
struggles, lead her on a journey of self-discovery. In the novel The Wars,
Robert Ross is a sensitive nineteen year old boy who experiences first-hand the
horrors of battle as a Canadian Soldier in the First World War. Being named a
Lieutenant shortly after arriving in Europe, Robert is thrust into combat. While
advancing to the front with his troops Robert witnesses his first images of the
brutality of war: He was taking his troops to the front and they were walking
along a road that had been shelled and there was a soldier lying dead by the
road whose head had been smashed. It was an awful shock. The first dead man
he’d seen. (The Wars 99) Robert has not yet experienced anything that could
prepare him for the conditions he faces. In 2 this instance, Robert experiences
brutality for the first time, in the form of a dead body which has been
gruesomely wounded. The shock of seeing a dead body can be very disturbing to
any individual, and not even an experienced veteran could be prepared for the
horrific sight Robert endures here. Minna Joyce, a writer in the novel Stones,
also experiences and reacts to the horrors of life. Minna’s war is not like
the World War in which Robert participates, but is a struggle with everyday life
in the large city of Toronto. Minna witnesses horrific sights on Queen Street:
... with all its resident rubbies and gentle crazies, dressed in all weathers in
their summer coats .... ..... and their eyes as crafty and innocent all at once
as the eyes of bears.... (Stones 11) Minna Joyce experiences the harsh reality
of individuals who have nothing, and are forced to live on the streets of
downtown Toronto. Minna was brought up in an area of the city inhabited by many
homeless people, or“artists”as she calls them, a little less horrifying. The
thought of having to watch the people suffer is horrifying to her. The war of
life is apparent in the challenges that both Minna and Robert are faced with in
their lives. One of the most notable events which Robert faces is trench warfare
during the First World War. After being sent away with a small battalion to
begin the digging of another trench, Robert comes back to the front to find the
trench destroyed and his comrades dead. When they made their way back through
the trench there was nothing left alive. They had all been gassed or had frozen
to death. Those who lay in water were profiled in ice. Everything was green:
their faces – and their fingers – and their buttons and the snow. (The Wars
146) 3 In this situation, Robert witnesses many of the horrific ways in which
soldiers were killed during the First World War. Snow and the bitterly cold
weather attributed to many Canadian soldiers’ deaths during World War One, and
nearly one thousand men died from frost bite alone. The sight of his friends
frozen dead in the water is terrifying, and to look down and see another soldier
in the ice with his entire body green is a gruesome image. One of the most
popular and deadly tactics used by the Germans during World War One was chlorine
gas, which Robert was lucky to survive. He is subjected to the poison when it
was sent up into the atmosphere which produced huge masses of chlorine gas
clouds. These clouds made their way across “no man’s land”, to the
trenches, killing all in sight including Robert’s comrades. Minna’s
experiences in life are not to the same degree comparable to Robert’s, but can
be related to everyday life. Robert struggles in World War One, experiencing
brutality and death at its worst. Minna struggles on the streets of Toronto.
Both characters struggle for survival in life. Robert’s experiences are quite
extreme and the average person may not be able to relate to them. Even though
Minna’s experiences are common, they are nonetheless frightening. Minna’s
experiences with the homeless became more terrifying when she had to live on the
streets. “... a life of inherited privilege mixed with deliberate squalor.”
(Stones 11) She spent some nights on the streets because she could not find
work. She was subjected to the horror that people believe it will never happen
to them. “Queen Street and, in fact, the whole of Parkdale offered a world of
unwanted people...” (Stones 51) Minna was a part of a war that is lasting
longer than World War One. Although the books are set in different time periods,
both Minna and Robert struggle to survive day to day. Their situations are
different but the goals are the same; survival. Robert’s physical accounts of
trench warfare and Minna’s physical accounts with the homeless 4 displays to
the reader the fact that war exists in a physical state. The consequences of the
war with life allow the two characters to justify who they are, and help them to
become mentally stronger. The psychological change in the character’s
dispositions and their increasing awareness of the importance of life is evident
throughout the novels The Wars and Stones. Through Robert’s experiences with
the utter brutality of war, he experiences a psychological change in character.
After being saved a day earlier on the battlefield by one of his comrades,
Robert experiences difficulty trying to get to sleep. “All he wanted was a
dream. Escape. But nobody dreams on a Battlefield. There isn’t any sleep that
long. Dreams and distance are the same.” (The Wars 102) At the young age of
nineteen, dreams are common. The impact of the war has begun to affect Robert,
as he has difficulty even dreaming. Sleep and the night are very important to
soldiers. The ability to dream allows them to leave the horror of war on earth
and enter into a fantasy where they can forget. Robert’s inability to dream is
based on the fact that his mind is filled with the horrors of war which prevent
him from entering this dreamworld. Minna also experiences a psychological change
in her perceptions of living. “She, too, wanted to escape.” (Stones 43)
Minna and her husband both want to depart the reality of their life in Parkdale.
She wanted trees and grass in their backyard, which is not conceivable when
living in a small apartment. Minna, like Robert, wants to escape the reality of
life as she knows it, and be in a place where everything is splendid. Minna
“wanted even once a week to make her way down the and into the street without
the ever-present threat of someone else’s panic waiting to grab her sleeve.”
(Stones 44) Minna seems to enjoy working with the homeless, but she would just
like to get away once in a while to have more peace and security. Minna and
Robert 5 both want deliverance from the horror in their lives. In the novel
Heart of Darkness Kurtz’s final words are, “The horror, the horror”
(Conrad 118). These words are Kurtz’s final judgement of what he succumbed to
in both the Congo and in his psychological journey into his own heart of
darkness. The horrors that Robert and Minna face are reality and must not be
forgotten. The difference between Kurtz and Robert and Minna is that Kurtz
succumbs to his inner demons and goes mad, whereas Robert and Minna do not.
Robert has experienced every aspect of the brutality of war. His psychological
change is evident through his outlook on life: Robert struck a match and caught
the rat by his tail. It squealed as he lifted it over the edge and set it free.
Robert wondered afterwards if setting the rat free had been a favour – but in
the moment that he did it he was thinking: here is someone still alive. And the
word alive was amazing. (The Wars 127) Robert has witnessed deaths by the
thousands, and the difference between a human and animal life has escaped his
mind. In this instance, Robert’s act of setting the rat free is one that could
be questioned because of the deaths that he has seen. However, because of the
impact of war on his mind, Robert recognizes the beauty of life in the midst of
madness. Robert feels that he contributed to the saving of a life, which allows
him to feel better for that one instant until he goes back out to fight again.
Minna’s psychological change is evident when she makes the homeless person
feel wanted. “Just to be seen and heard and acknowledged. That’s what they
wanted. Witness. Not to be forgotten.” (Stones 51) Minna likes to see the
homeless happy, and feel better about themselves. Minna, like Robert, does not
like the reality of the surroundings. Minna tries her best to change that by
bringing the poor woman, Elizabeth Doyle, 6 home to let her sleep in a bed.
Minna realizes that all that the people on the streets want is to be noticed and
not to be forgotten. The trauma of the horrors of life on Robert and Minna leads
the reader to believe that “war” does have psychological effects on the
individual. The character’s physical and psychological accounts of war lead
the characters on their own personal journey of self-discovery. The horrors of
war which Robert endures are instrumental in his psychological change. In
Robert’s final stand to declare the existence of life in the midst of death,
he attempts to save some horses from a burning barn: Robert couldn’t stand it
any longer and he said to Devlin: ‘I’m going to break ranks and save these
animals. Will you come with me?’ Devlin wanted to – and said so. But he was
afraid of Captain Leather. ‘Leather is insane,’ said Robert flatly. ‘It
cannot be called disobedience to save these animals when they’ll be needed,
for God’s sake. (The Wars 201-202) The importance of life to Robert is evident
here as he breaks ranks in order to save the horses. Disobeying an order in the
army can lead to a Court Marshall, dishonorable discharge and even worse the
possibility of being accused of treason. However, these consequences pale in
comparison to the thought of more deaths. Throughout Robert’s time as a
soldier in the army during World War One he witnesses first hand the destruction
of war. These horrors of war lead to his psychological transformation which
inevitably leads to his journey of self-discovery, recognizing the importance of
life in the midst of death. Minna comes to a conclusion along the same lines as
Robert. As Minna is dying of an inoperable cancer of the lung, she moves to
Australia. Her physical accounts of the horror in her life lead to the
psychological change which made her change location. She has a daughter now and
does not want her to grow up with the 7 same horror that surrounded Minna as a
child. “They say it is quite civilized .” (Stones 19) Her move to Australia
lead to her journey of self-discovery. She realizes how important life becomes
in the midst of death. I know why she wanted her ashes scattered there at
Ku-Ring-Gai. It was the joy and the liveliness – the sense of endless
celebration that clung to all figures in the rock. (Stones 25) Minna realizes
and wants others to realize that everyone, no matter of what the individual
looks like, should be able to enjoy happiness in life. Robert wantes the horses
to have the freedom as he does in life. Minna wants her daughter to have the
freedom that she has in life. Minna wants her daughter to also experience the
joy of love and the sense of endless celebration. The figure cut in the stones
at Ku-Ring-Gai was a child. The child of the two stick figures rejoicing by its
side beneath the moon. And the child had long, albino hair and one six-fingered
hand stretched out for all the world to see forever.... (Stones 26) Minna
concludes her life with the discovery with herself. The importance of life to
Minna is apparent here, as she wants her daughter, who has six fingers on each
hand, to be exposed to society. Hiding her from people would show how she does
not respect what she created. Instead she wants to display her miracle which was
created inside her, for everyone to behold. Throughout Minna’s time in Toronto
on Queens Street, she had witnessed first-hand the destruction of life. These
horror lead to her psychological change which inevitably leads to her journey of
self-discovery. Minna, like Robert, comes to the conclusion of the importance of
life, and how it should be set free to live with others. In many ways, the war
of life affects individuals, leading to physical and mental change. 8 Through
facing hardships in life, one can assess his/her experience and discover more
about themselves and the world around them. War does exist in Robert’s and
Minna’s physical accounts of the horror of life. Robert’s experience is in
World War One. Minna’s experience is life on the streets of Toronto with the
homeless. The psychological change in Robert and Minna can be attributed to
their physical encounters of the war in life. Robert and Minna both change their
view on life because of their struggles. Furthermore, these two worlds lead
Robert and Minna to acknowledge the importance of life. Thus, in the novels The
Wars and Stones, Findley has demonstrated that the war does have an effect on
the individual, leading to a journey of self-discovery.

Conrad, Joseph. Heart of Darkness. Markham: Penguin, 1981. Findley, Timothy.
Stones. Toronto: Penguin, 1988. Findley, Timothy. The Wars. Toronto: Penguin,
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