Wilfred Owen, selected poems Contents
- Wilfred Owen: Social and political background
- Wilfred Owen: Religious / philosophical context
- Wilfred Owen: Literary context
- Wilfred Owen: 1914
- Wilfred Owen: Anthem for Doomed Youth
- Wilfred Owen: At a Calvary near the Ancre
- Wilfred Owen: Disabled
- Wilfred Owen : Dulce et Decorum Est
- Wilfred Owen: Exposure
- Wilfred Owen: Futility
- Wilfred Owen: Greater Love
- Wilfred Owen: Hospital Barge
- Wilfred Owen: Insensibility
- Wilfred Owen: Inspection
- Wilfred Owen: Le Christianisme
- Wilfred Owen: Mental Cases
- Wilfred Owen: Miners
- Wilfred Owen: S.I.W
- Wilfred Owen: Soldier’s Dream
- Wilfred Owen: Sonnet On Seeing a Piece of Our Heavy Artillery Brought into Action
- Wilfred Owen: Spring Offensive
- Wilfred Owen: Strange Meeting
- Wilfred Owen: The Dead-Beat
- Wilfred Owen: The Last Laugh
- Wilfred Owen: The Letter
- Wilfred Owen: The Parable of the Old Man and the Young
- Wilfred Owen: The Send-Off
- Wilfred Owen: The Sentry
- Wilfred Owen: Wild with All Regrets
Inspection - Imagery, symbolism and themes
Imagery and symbolism in Inspection
Blood, dirt and washing
The whole of Inspection is threaded through with the image of blood and dirt. The man is charged with being ‘dirty on parade’ and afterwards he refers to the stain as a ‘damned spot’. Owen uses this allusion to Lady Macbeth’s words in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth ambiguously:
- The soldier curses the dirt which he was unable to remove. It was ‘damned’ because it was impossible to remove and frustrated him. It damned him as it also caused him to be punished
- Owen, the officer, reports the speech to us. He is aware of the implications of guilt associated with the blood, which haunts Lady Macbeth as she tries to clean her hands while she sleep-walks.
In Inspection blood and dirt are the same thing: according to army regulations they are both elements that soil the man’s uniform. The man is bitter as he acknowledges that, while blood should be seen as precious and a costly sacrifice, the army does indeed treat it (and those who offer it) as ‘dirt’. At a deeper level, Owen plays with the idea that the loss of blood equates to the loss of life and the literal and symbolic return of humans to the ‘clay’ from which the Bible asserts they were made.
The soldier uses personification to illustrate his point about blood and dirt. The world is seen, like Lady Macbeth, to be struggling to get rid of ‘stains’ of which it is presumably guilty. The punitive world powers object to the ‘cheeks so red’ of the ‘Young’ l.13. However once the soldiers are dead they will be colourless. They will be white-washed by death in the way the army white-washed coal and other unsightly things in camp before an important inspection - the term ‘to white-wash’ implies a cover up.
Symbolically, Owen uses the image of blood as a symbol for death and sacrifice. The idea of the world washing out its stains comes from the Christian symbolism of sinners being washed clean in the blood of Christ (see Big Ideas from the Bible > Blood).
The soldier ironically compares God to a Field Marshal, the top rank in the army, and the final judgement to a military parade when the whole human ‘race’ will be inspected and held accountable for its ‘stains’, particularly the way in which it has sacrificed its young.
Investigating imagery and symbolism in Inspection
Themes in Inspection
Blood is used in Inspection as a metaphor for both life and death. It speaks of both sacrifice and guilt. According to Christian understanding, only Jesus, who shed his own blood for the sake of humankind, can wash away the sins and stains accumulated by humanity. However, if God (or his church) is aligned with the Field Marshal, head of a culpable army, who is left to cleanse and absolve the world’s guilt at killing so many men?
Guilt and judgement
In Inspection Owen deals with the routines of war but juxtaposes them with the horrors suffered and sacrifices made by those involved. Although Owen gives us a portrait of himself, he recognises his lack of sympathy, his inhumanity towards the man because of the strict orders under which the war makes him live. The theme of guilt is subtly suggested here, as it is with the reference to Lady Macbeth and the final judgement. This theme of judgement ranges from what is seen by the man as a petty fault to the final judgment which will be made both on the dead and those who were responsible for their dying.
Investigating themes in Inspection
- Blood, sacrifice and guilt are the main themes in Inspection, as they are in many other of Owen’s poems. Compare this poem with the references to blood and sacrifice in Disabled
- Guilt is a more subtle theme. How does Owen present it in this poem?
- Remind yourself of The Send Off and ‘wrongs hushed up’ and the closing line of Mental Cases
- How does the theme of guilt, upon which Owen touches in these poems, compare with the theme of guilt in Inspection?
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