The Last Laugh - Synopsis and commentary

Synopsis of The Last Laugh

Owen recounts the deaths of three soldiers who are killed in battle. The first, perhaps an ‘old soldier’, dies calling out the name ‘Jesus Christ’; the second, a young boy, calls out to his parents; the third, a conscript, moans a term of endearment to his wife or sweetheart. Each man responds to his imminent death in a different way. In each case Owen describes in detail the responses made by the artillery and armaments which have killed them.

Investigating The Last Laugh

  • In The Last Laugh Owen creates, in a very short space, three very different individual soldiers. From Owen’s descriptions of their deaths what sort of man does he suggests each is?
    • How do the responses of the guns and shells add to our understanding of the characters?

Commentary on The Last Laugh

WWI HowitzersThe Last Laugh is a short, blunt poem with a harsh title. It is unlike any of Owen’s other poems in that the title itself is cynical and harsh. Titles such as Exposure, Futility and Insensibility are abstracts of the reality the poems contain; The Send-Off, Strange Meeting and The Sentry point to the events in the poems; while Mental Cases, Disabled and The Dead Beat highlight the horrors of war. The last laugh of this poem belongs to the instruments of war which guffaw and titter and grin. 


Owen drafted the poem during training in Scarborough in February 1918. He originally intended the poem to be called Last Word. He sent a draft to his mother, a very devout Christian who would have been shocked by the opening line: ‘“Oh! Jesus Christ! I’m hit”’. Owen wrote to her that:

There is a point where blasphemy is indistinguishable from prayer.

From his correspondence to his mother it seems that she was upset by the reference to Jesus Christ:

That ‘Last Words’ seems to have had rather a harrowing effect on you. I have shown it to no one else as it is not chastened yet. It baffles my critical spirit.

Investigating commentary of The Last Laugh

  • Owen’s choice of poem title says a lot about his feelings about war. What do you think is added to the poem by its new title?
  • How would the title Last Words have toned down the anti-war message which Owen wished to communicate?
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