Birdsong – notes on Part 5

In part 5 it goes back to 1978, Elizabeth begins researching the history of Stephen’s regiment. She has his diaries decoded however it seems to be proving difficult ‘your grandfather seems to have covered his tracks pretty well.’ This shows Stephen’s secretive and private nature. To find out more she visits the regiment headquarters where ‘her car was searched for bombs’ this links back to the past and reminds us of the fact that England was still at war – that everything is still not at peace. In the regimental history Gray’s name is mentioned which is another link to the past. After reading about Gray she decides to contact him however when she first attempts to call him she fails to because ‘her nerve failed.’ This contrasts with the soldiers who were in the war and managed to keep their nerve in far worse situations. It suggests that perhaps our society today does not really understand real fear.

Once she eventually calls Gray he is annoyed that she wants to talk about something which ‘happened years ago.’ This shows he has moved on and that perhaps it didn’t mean as much to him as the other soldiers as he was not in the trenches at the peak of war. He however tells Elizabeth he remembers Stephen as ‘a strange man’ who was a ‘tremendous fighter’ but who appeared ‘worried.’ This gives Elizabeth a little more understanding of Stephen; we learn he is quite a complex character. Gray provides Elizabeth another link to the past mentioning Brennan, the soldier in the previous section.

Elizabeth visits Brennan in the home he is living in. It makes us feel sympathetic towards Brennan as he is living in a home being looked after by people who don’t understand what he has been through and the impact of it. For example he nurse at the home believes ‘he lives in a world of his own’ and that men ‘have no interest in the outside world.’ This makes us as a reader shocked after reading the horrific scenes of the previous sections. There is clear irony in the fact that he and the other soldiers were fighting for the future generations and gave it there all for future generations to have so little knowledge or interest in them.Brennan is presented as a fragile, lonely figure with a ‘tiny mutilated body.’ He is described; ‘the little man in the wheelchair was like a bird on its perch.’ He is confused when Elizabeth talks to him; however he does remember Stephen although he tells her little about him.

Another link to the past is made when Brennan mentions Stephen holding Douglas when he died which is a clear link to the previous section. At the end of this chapter Elizabeth realises that what she could not do was ‘restore poor Brennan’s life or take away the pity of the past.’ Brennan is no longer living a life but purely just existing.

In part 5 we also learn about the relationship between Robert and Elizabeth which parallels the relationship of Stephen and Isabelle. We get to know more about Robert from the point of view of Robert. We find out that ‘he had married the wrong women.’ This part of the chapter presents Robert more positively and makes us as a reader understand why he has the affair and that he does really care for Elizabeth. We warm to him more and realise he’s not a bad person. Robert’s feelings are similar to Stephen’s ‘he had been addicted to her initially in a physical way’ which is another link in this section.

Elizabeth retrieves more of Stephen’s notebooks when her mother locates them and continues researching war. Through out the sections of Elizabeth we are taken on her emotional and educational journey of discovery which changes her. She now starts to think more into what really is important ‘She thought of Tom Brennan who had known only life or death then death in life. In her generation there was no intensity.’ This shows her reflecting on what she has found out and learnt about war. It has made her realise her problems in life are insignificant compared to those of the soldiers in the war.

At the end of Part 5 Stephen’s diaries are translated and we see the war through the perspective of Stephen. For the first time we get Stephen’s personal voice coming through; a sense of his state of mind. His feelings are a lot more powerful and we get a better knowing of his fears and emotions. We are also told about the guilt, tiredness and immunity to death and desire to die ‘I have longed for death.’ This again shows the horrors of war and the mental and physical affect it had on them.