Before we completely move on from Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier, I wanted to discuss one of the subtle ways that West foreshadowed the issue of class in her novel. Class is seen repeatedly throughout the novel, and it is most explicitly seen when Margret visits Kitty and Jenny to tell them about Chris’ injury. Even before we are introduced to Margaret and the class struggle that existed within the novel, West hinted at the issue, and even possibly about Chris’ feelings towards class.
When Jenny is describing Chris to the reader at the beginning of the novel she mentioned, “I noticed once again how his hair was of two colors, brown and gold,” (West 50). Looking back at the novel I think that this small detail plays a much larger part as a reference to the duality that Chris experienced in the novel. This could be taken as a foreshadow of the trauma and split personality that Chris experiences later. His two tones of hair color could represent the break in his personality; the person he was leaving for war and the “damaged” person who returns. While I do think that this is a plausible reading of this line, I think the foreshadowing technique also runs much deeper in this instance. I think that West used Chris’ hair to foreshadow the distinct divide between classes, and possibly that Chris was also split between classes. The women, Kitty and Jenny, in Chris’ life expect him to be a man of the upper class, same as he was when he left them for war. In coming back, though, they realized that he also had empathy and love for things that were beneath him, like Margret. I think that this could, in turn, signify that class separation was not as an important of a matter for Chris as it seemed to be for Kitty and Jenny. Reading Chris as a person who was not “damaged,” but instead split between two different lives raises questions for me about whether it was ethical or not to treat Chris. It also makes me wonder if his illness was more about repressed feeling than it was about memory loss.
Chris was torn between his duty not only as a man, but an upper-class man providing for two women, and his heart that belonged to the lower class. West showed this relationship explicitly in many different ways in the novel, but it was not until I was rereading that I began catching more of her subtle hints, especially regarding the divide between classes.
West, Rebecca. The Return of the Soldier. Broadview Editions, 2010.