As this is a realist play, the men’s dialogue varies according to their position and social class. This shows the hierarchy in the military, but also how people from every social class were heroes in the face of adversity.
Stanhope, Osborne and Raleigh all mention that they were public schoolboys and this is reflected in their use of Standard English and words like “rugger” and “chaps”.
At the beginning of World War One, only men educated at public school could become officers. But it was around this time that the class system became less regimented - possibly because so many privately educated officers died.
It wasn’t long after the war began that men who did not go to public school could get promoted.
In Journey’s End we see that Trotter is an officer. Yet his use of the vernacular - “I know a decent bit o’ pudden when I see it” - shows him to be less well educated. This is Sherriff reflecting the changing times.
Look also at the dialogue of the Colonel and Mason - both from very different classes - to see examples of these variations.
While the play is set over four days leading up to the final attack, the past is still important. This is shown by the discussions the men have about their lives outside the war.
Trotter’s description of his garden “with flower-borders – geraniums, lobelia, and calceolaria”, and Osborne’s revelation that he played rugby for England humanise these characters. We are reminded that every soldier was a real man with a life, just like the rest of us.
References to Stanhope’s fiancé and Osborne’s wife also remind us of how many people back home suffered from the war - women and children lost fathers and loved ones.
It is particularly poignant when Osborne removes his wedding ring because he doesn’t “want the risk of losing it.” We suspect the truth is that he does not expect to survive and wants the ring to be given to his wife when he dies.
The stage directions are the part of the script - often in brackets or italics - that tell the actors how they are to move or speak their lines.
While they do not form the dialogue of the play, they are obviously important as they tell us what the writer intended us to observe on stage.
However, there are times where the stage directions use language which is significant for a reader as well as an audience – note how the word “boy” is repeated in the stage directions as Raleigh is dying, and how the simile “like a child” is used to describe how the Sergeant Major carries him.
These linguistic devices emphasise how young Raleigh is, reinforcing the futility of a war that kills so many young men with so much potential.
The stage directions refer frequently to the noises heard from outside the dugout. This means that even in the seemingly calm moments on stage, we are always aware there is a war going on.
Sherriff uses onomatopoeia at times, describing the sounds vividly. For example, the “sharp crack” of grenades and the shells that “whistle and hiss and moan”.
The opening stage directions describe the “sounds of war” as “faint and far away”. This is in contrast to the final shelling, which “has risen to a great fury” and is described using words and phrases such as “shriek” and “fevered spatter”.
The threatening but distant sounds of war shown at the beginning become a close reality at the end.