Themes

Photo of British troops going over the top of the trenches during the Battle of the Somme, 1916
World War One is a key theme of 'Exposure'

A number of unifying ideas or themes run through the poem. Different readers may attach more or less significance to each of these themes, depending upon how they view the poem.

ThemeEvidenceAnalysis
War: Owen once declared of all his writing that: ‘My theme is war and the pity of war’. In this poem he looks at a particular aspect of how death claimed the lives of so many soldiers.‘We only know war lasts’The soldiers seem to have little idea of where they are, what they are fighting for and for how long it will be. There is only one certainty and it is that war is something that persists.
Weather: the freezing conditions are seen as being dangerous as the enemy. The soldiers are fighting two battles at once and at one point, bullets are seen as less deadly than the cold.‘Dawn massing in the east her melancholy army/ Attacks once more in ranks on shivering ranks of grey’The weather is likened to an army that gathers and assaults the soldiers in the trenches.
Despair: one of the casualties of war is the men’s loss of faith in what they are doing and why they are there. Death is seen as inevitable.‘For love of God seems dying’The soldiers have lost their religious faith. This implies that they are not looking forward to any sort of after-life once death has occurred and it makes their situation even more distressing.
Question

How does Owen show that the soldiers are doomed?

  • The noise of war is constantly in the background, reminding the soldiers they may die at any moment.
  • Even the weather has turned against them and may kill them as easily as the bullets.
  • The soldiers’ sense of despair suggests that they have nothing left to live for.