In The Last Laugh_ Owen explores the personification of the

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In The Last Laugh_ Owen explores the personification of the Powered By Docstoc
					  Close Analysis of The Last Laugh by Wilfred Own, With Reference to Distinctive
                         Elements of His Other War Poetry
                                By Martin Brown

In The Last Laugh, Owen personifies the weapons of war and uses the medium of
theatre to highlight the suffering and injustice of the war. He depicts three deaths in
combat. In each, the young man’s last words are written and they die. Owen then
personifies the weapons as an audience, laughing and mocking the horror as if it were
a show. The barbaric nature of the weapons shows the total uncaring hardship faced
by the soldiers, and is possibly used as a device to attack the unfeeling and detached
view and role of the generals and politicians overseeing the war.

The poem is broken into similarly structured stanzas to give a recurring and
magnifying effect. They deal with three types of love: the love of God, parental love
and sexual love.

The first soldier calls before his death ‘Oh! Jesus Christ I’m hit!’. Owen goes on to
clarify that he is unsure whether the soldier is cursing (that is, blaspheming) or
praying. Either way it is designed to be a poignant and tragic.

The second soldier calls ‘O Mother, - Mother, - Dad!’. The next line, ‘Then smiled at
nothing, child-like, being dead’ is a very important element of the poem. It could
possibly be argued that Owen implies that the release of death is akin to the parental
comfort he pines for in his wounding and presumably throughout his time in conflict.
However, I believe it is more likely that it is simply a representation of innocence and
the sheer child-like desire for pity. Owen was always keen to emphasise the innocence
of the soldiers. In his other work he often portrayed them as child-like in their
innocence (indeed he used them as a metaphor for Isaac from the book of Genesis in
his allegorical re-telling of ‘The Parable of the Old Man and the Young’). This is used
to re-emphasise not only the sadness of the war, but make a social protest at the fact
that such innocent creatures are being sent to slaughter by their forefathers – thusly
implied to be corrupted in contrast to the child-like innocence of their sons,
presumably by pride and duty. The macabre use of the corpse’s expression to support
this creates a hellish image designed to upset the reader.

The third is said to moan ‘My love!’. Owen then uses a similar technique to the
second stanza, showing a macabre and disturbing fulfilment of his want. In this case,
he depicts how in dying the soldier’s ‘whole face kissed the mud’. Owen has now
examined the human, the son and the lover – 3 fundamental elements of the soldiers’
humanity. This emotion gives way to the realisation of a futile death and a mocking
from the weapons.

The use of the soldiers’ plaintive speech is reminiscent of much of Owen’s work.
Perhaps the most chilling and famous example is ‘O sir my eyes! I’m blind! I’m
blind! I’m blind!’ in The Sentry. By exhibiting a first hand despair, Owen ensures that
none of the realism is lost in metaphor and elevated dialogue. This example from ‘The
Sentry’ also uses repetition to hammer home a point. Repetition is another device
explored frequently by Owen is also used to great effect in Last Laugh. By repeating
the reactions of the weapons (‘Tut-tut! Tut-tut!’ and ‘in vain, vain, vain!’).
Alliteration, another frequently used technique can also be seen in this example to
create a jarring note.

Owen uses personification to good effect in many of his poems. He has characterised
weaponry before in Anthem For Doomed Youth, but not in anywhere near this depth.
Owen’s personification of the weapons is curious, in that it is not a whole
personification. The weapons lack many humanitarian qualities, and therein lie their
effectiveness. Physical features are described, such as teeth and mouths, but used to
such effect; one could almost compare the weapons to monsters. Their behaviour is
indeed monstrous: They are not only literally responsible for the death of these men,
but they laugh at the utter suffering and carnage they have caused: the death and
suffering of innocent, young men.

The progression through the reactions could also be seen to represent the different
areas of the theatre and the class of their audience. The guffaws, chirps and chuckles
of the first stanza could be seen to be the upper classes of the dress circle, the lofty
gestures and titters of the second stanza the middle classes, and the hoots and hisses of
the third stanza the coarser working class of the stalls. Indeed the shells in the third
stanza are described as a ‘rabble’. The purpose of this could be to dictate a classless
nature of Owen’s attack; to eliminate any prejudices from the reader’s mind in
blaming a social group for the weapons’ literal and metaphorical brutality depicted in
the poem: all social classes are responsible for supporting the war.

Another typical Owen technique used in this poem is onomatopoeia. Owen uses the
similarity of the sound of weaponry to the sound of a mocking audience.

Owen’s use of the theatre metaphor is typical of the imagery he has created in other
areas of his poetry. Owen has used many other disciplines and metaphors to portray
the horror and social injustice of the war. Using a broad range of such disciplines
shows adds great weight to his cause, in that a wide range of metaphors imply that the
war is of such magnitude that it can be compared quite readily to so many diverse and
different things, each drawing out a new horror and tyranny.

A hallmark of Owen’s work one cannot fail to explore is his use of rhyming. Owen is
seen as one of the greatest exponents of the half rhyme. Owen uses this technique
several times in the poem: rhyming ‘died’ and ‘indeed’, ‘mood’ and ‘mud’, and
‘grinned’ and ‘groaned’. By changing the rhyme’s structure in the centre of the word,
it throws the reader’s subconscious off track. Owen used this to add an extra jarring
note to his work and thusly add to the disturbance. Owen’s poetry was designed to
portray his points in the most disturbing way possible, for both cathartic and for
didactic purposes.

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