The Wars Summary

Timothy Findley

The Wars

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The Wars Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of The Wars by Timothy Findley.

Timothy Findley’s 1977 novel,The Wars, is the story of a nineteen-year-old Canadian named Robert Ross who enlists in the army during World War I. His reason for doing so is two-fold. He is having difficulty dealing with the death of his older sister and also wants to escape what he considers the oppressiveness of his society. The book utilizes first, second, and third person voices as it tells the Robert’s story. In a prologue, Robert is seen, gun in hand, with a horse and a dog. He is near a burning building and a train. He frees a herd of horses from the train and then they, along with Robert and the dog are on the run.

Part one of the novel opens with Robert’s decision to enlist because of his sister Rowena’s death. He feels responsible for her death, or at least tremendously guilty because of the circumstances surrounding it. She was in the barn playing with her rabbits and fell from her wheelchair to her death. At the time, Robert was in his room pleasuring himself. Had he been watching her, he could have saved her. After the incident,his mother tells him to kill the rabbits but he refuses and his father hires Teddy Budge to do it. Robert tries to stop Teddy but is beaten up. Later that day, Robert’s mother must accept the fact that he wants to go to war.

At basic training he meets a war hero named Eugene Taffler. When Robert and some other trainees visit a brothel, a prostitute leads him to a peephole through which Robert sees Taffler engaging in sadomasochistic acts with another man. Robert reacts angrily, scaring Ella, the prostitute. Later, while sailing to England, Robert is assigned to kill a wounded horse and has to fire many shots before he is actually able to do so. Next, in France, Robert finds himself leading a convoy. After nearly drowning in a sinkhole, he and two of his men, Poole and Levitt, get to a dugout where they will live with Devlin, Bonnycastle, and Rodwell. Rodwell has many wounded animals that he takes care of, including rabbits, which of course remind Robert of Rowena. Rodwell becomes the one Robert bonds with the most.

In this next part of Robert’s story he and his men are engaged in trench warfare. The dugout is shelled and Levitt effectively loses him mind; Robert feels that he is also close to madness. Following orders involving the placement of guns, Robert and the others face a gas attack. The order is to put the guns in a crater that was formed by enemy attacks. While attempting to do so, Robert wounds his knee and the men begin going down the side of the crater. It is winter and they find themselves approaching, and in many cases falling into, freezing water as the gas begins to overcome them. Robert orders the men to rip off pieces of their clothing, urinate on them, and put them over their faces. The men then assume a face down position, pretending to be dead. Hours pass and Robert realizes that they are being watched by an enemy German soldier, who lets Robert’s men escape from the crater. As they are taking their leave, Robert sees the German move as if to reach for his rifle and he shoots him. Adding to his guilt, he later realizes that the German soldier was only reaching for a pair of binoculars to look at a bird overhead. The soldier had a sniper rifle and could have killed Robert and his men had he chosen to. A bird’s chirp becomes a haunting sound to Robert.

Robert sustains injuries from which he needs to recover and the next segment is set in a hospital. Juliet d’Orsey explains that the hospital building was once the d’Orsey home. As Robert recovers there, he is reunited with Taffler, who has lost both of his arms in the war. While not obviously despondent, he is found by Juliet attempting to commit suicide by rubbing the stumps of his arms together in the hope of bleeding to death. Robert and others hear Juliet screaming and save Taffler. Juliet then tells Robert that the room in which he is staying is haunted by the ghost of Lady Sorrel, who lights candles there nightly. One night, Juliet attempts to trick Robert by pretending to be Lady Sorrel and lighting candles, but when she opens his door she finds Robert having sex with her sister Barbara.

In the final part of the book, Robert returns to battle. He gets separated from his men on the way and ends up at a mental institution;in the bathhouse he is raped by four men. He assumes that they are patients there but then discovers that they are soldiers. As a result of this, he burns the only picture he has of his sister Rowena, feeling that something as innocent as that should not exist in the world as it has become. When he makes it back to the front, Robert asks Captain Leather to release the horses that are in a barn lest they be killed by the German shells. The request is denied, but Robert and Devlin set out to do so anyway. The captain shoots and kills Devlin but misses Robert who, as the shelling continues, kills the captain.Robert flees, knowing he will face court martial for disobeying orders. The action circles back to the prologue and he frees the horses. He becomes trapped in a barn with the horses; when soldiers set it on fire, the horses are killed and Robert is badly burned. A nurse at the hospital to which Robert is sent offers him a method of euthanasia but he refuses. He cannot be placed in prison because of his condition and is instead sent on leave for long term treatment. Juliet stays with him until his death.