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English Literature

Themes

War

War ties into the theme of heroism as a useful motif – it is a time when people are often called ‘heroes’ but it is also a theme in itself.

  • Francis dreams of the German soldiers that he killed, but in his dreams they cry ‘Mama’ and he sees them as boys, like him ‘too young to shave’. In real life they didn’t have time to speak, but the dream emphasises a common idea in war literature – that the soldiers on both sides often have more in common with each-other than with their commanders.
  • Throughout Francis never questions whether the war itself was just – he describes it at the end as the ‘good war’. However, the depiction of violence, and its effects, is quite brutal. The clinical and grotesque description of Francis’s facial injuries at the beginning of the novel is a good example of this. War is presented as horrifying and terrifying, with a massive effect on those who fight in it, but Cormier is not concerned with the politics of the war, nor does he make Heroes a pacifist novel.
  • Arthur’s collapse behind the club one evening suggests that many of the veterans have similar issues to Francis – although Arthur appeared normal he is finding it very difficult to cope with the memories of what the war was like. Because he is physically unharmed, it is easier for him to pass as ‘normal’ than it is for Francis, but this episode shows that doesn’t mean the soldiers who came back in one piece are actually okay.

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