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Wilfred Owen’s Dulce Et Decorum Est: Alliteration and Simile

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To illustrate “the old Lie: Dulce et decorum est/Pro matria mori” (Owen “Dulce et Decorum Est” 27-28), Owen uses alliteration and simile.

First, Owen uses alliteration to show that it is not sweet and proper to die for your country. The poem is about “the old Lie” (27) that it is sweet and proper to die for your country. Wilfred Owen describes the façade that seems to make the war sound pleasant because the soldiers are serving their country and saving it. He contrasts this by describing the real conditions and situations that soldiers go through during World War I in trench warfare. The first instance of the alliteration disproving “the old Lie” (27) is in one of the dreams of one of the soldiers where he describes the poison gas affecting him. The effect describes itself as “watch[ing] the white eyes writhing in his face” (19). The description of the pain emphasizes horrors of war by describing an extremely gruesome detail. The alliteration shows that the harsh “w” sound portrays the tactile imagery with the loss of breath that would happen during war, if a soldier was dying. The “w” sound shows that lips twist and the face will twist while trying to pronounce the words Owen uses. The alliteration reinforces the idea by emphasizing the terror, which the color white associates with. In addition, the word “writhing” (19) describes the eyes and the agony and panic that the soldier goes through. Owen further enforces this idea by conveying that Owen possesses a strong hatred of the war and disgust with what war brings. Owen uses the alliteration to provide an image of terror to describe the awful conditions of the war. He shows that while the civilians of the war think that it is a valiant way to die, while in reality, it is an awful death and the illusion that the old Lie creates is just a false face to try and grab more innocent civilian men into the war. Owen also describes this scene of death to allow for an insight into the real feeling of war, so that one might feel the loss of breath or the feeling of dying. Lastly, Owen uses alliteration to illustrate the evil of war, and the contrast to the old Lie. Like the previous example, Owen portrays the evil of war by using alliteration to exemplify his point. The feeling of death describes itself in the line of “a devil’s sick of sin” (20). He is still in the same place of the cusp of death, and this furthers the feeling of death. The use of alliteration proves that Owen wants to provide contrast to the old Lie by employing visual imagery. Visual imagery manifests itself in the line by showing not only the face of a devil, but the image of a devil that is sick of sin. This means that a devil wants to leave hell, but in this case, it is referring to a soldier who realizes his errors on the battlefield, like killing innocent men for no reason, and he obviously wants to try and leave the battlefield or trench. So, Owen compares the battlefield to a place of no escape or a hell. Next, Owen uses the alliteration in the harsh ‘s’ sound of “sick” and “sin” to provide the auditory imagery of evil. In conclusion, Owen uses alliteration to show that the old Lie that many people believe to be true, but is actually deceitful. Owen choses the alliteration to provide the evidence that war is actually much like hell in many ways: there is no escape from it, many sins are committed on the battlefield, and it makes monsters out of men. He also uses this to show that the idea of war may seem patriotic in hindsight, but in reality, it is a place of death and destruction, which can be both physically and mentally.

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Next, the author uses simile to describe the horrors of war, in strong opposition to the old Lie. First, he uses a description of the soldier’s uniforms to disprove the wonderful nature of serving in the war. In the beginning of the poem, Owen describes the appearance of the soldiers as looking “like old beggars under sacks” (1). The use of simile by Owen portrays the brightest and bravest soldiers as old men that are filthy. When he uses the simile, he reinforces the idea that soldiers are without much hope and don’t have much ambition to keep fighting. He also wants to show that the soldiers are not what they appear to be in hindsight. The soldiers are supposed to be in neat, new uniforms like the old Lie presents. In reality, the soldiers are beaten down and the simile reinforces the idea of the opposition to the Lie. Owen uses the simile to show that soldiers are really not all that they appear when the government tries to hook young men into joining the war effort. He tries to disprove the statement that it is sweet and proper to die for your country. Like he shows here, the war beats soldiers down and destroys their minds, thus giving the appearance of old beggars under sacks. He just uses the simile to reinforce the robust contrast. In conclusion, Owen uses the repetition of the ‘s’ sound to represent the evil nature of war and the effects of it on soldiers. After a gas attack, the soldiers confuse easily, and fumble around for their helmets, just in time for the gas to roll around. Although, one soldier does not get his gas mask on in time. He is caught out in the gas and feels the full effects of the horrid substance. Owen describes it as it happens and the soldier is “flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…” (12). As the soldier struggles for his life, the simile that Owen uses emphasizes the horrors of war. Lime is a dry chemical compound that can burn through flesh like fire. Owen uses it to show that the soldier, who is without a gas mask, or it is broken, is being hit massively with the pain of his flesh burning off as he writhes around on the ground. This simile shows that the horrors of the war are reality, and that it is not sweet or proper to die in war, it is quite the opposite. Owen also employs the visual imagery of the soldier struggling for his life in the short time that he is breathing in the gas. Finally, Owen uses the simile to reinforce the idea that war is not a sweet or proper place to die for the country that the soldier serves for. In contrast, he explains that war is a horrible place, and that the depiction of war is often wrong because it is actually a place of total destruction like seen with the vivid image of a soldier dying because his skin was burning due to lime. In conclusion, Wilfred Owen uses alliteration and simile to prove the old Lie wrong, and show that war is not a good place to die and that it is often a painful death.

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