The Return of the Soldier is about the effects of shell-shock on a soldier and the three women in his life. Rebecca West wrote The Return of the Soldier between the years of 1916 and 1917, during WWI, and set the action on an isolated country estate outside of London. In her novel, West shows the reactions of three female characters, Kitty, Jenny, and Margaret, to the altered condition of Kitty's husband, Chris. She shows how social changes imposed by an isolated wartime existence complicate their views of gender role expectations for themselves and for each other. Then, she uses Chris, who returns from war, suffering from shell-shock, to disrupt the practice of their way of life and challenge their beliefs regarding gender-role expectations for themselves and for men.
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Chris returns from the war in no condition to play the role traditionally expected of him. He suffers from severe memory loss and needs caretaking---the antithesis of the expected male as hero model. These women, uncomfortable with his condition, unite to find him a cure. As a result of their efforts, they decide it best to return Chris to their concept of the ideal man, the strong soldier type, the caretaker and the provider, and they send him back into harm's way; back to what they think his reality should be, back to where they think he will remember how to be the kind man they want him to be---back to the war. West makes it clear in the end that these women want Chris to return from the war alive, but she also makes it clear that for Chris to return a changed man remains an unacceptable ideal, not only to these women, but to society in general.
Best part of story, including ending:
I like how the women in this story learn how to take are of their own lives. Sadly, this revelation comes out of war.
Best scene in story:
My favorite scene is when Jenny examines the transition women are forced to make from being taken care of to being caretakers. She ponders the pros and cons of both, and she is willing to move forward into her own independence.
Opinion about the main character:
At first, I, too, was bothered by Chris and his melancholic mental meanderings, but I discovered, as he discovered, that he, too, was ready for a change. He welcomed a chance to get away, even if it meant going to war.