Surviving and the Necessity of Helping

*I had just finished reading this piece when I received the email about the shortened version, so I am not sure where we are cut off. I may write about sections not assigned.

Testament of Youth is far from being a celebration of youth; instead, the pages are filled with trauma and guilt over surviving when all others close are dead. Youth is supposed to be something to look upon with nostalgia, but this book shows how it became a nightmare for an entire generation. Vera Brittain describes the state of her heart during this period: "Sometimes my heart feels very tumultuous, full of passion and fierce desire; at others it is possessed by a sort of blank and despairing resignation to what one feels must be inevitable" (173-174). Already, the scene of her early twenties are becoming characterized by the blank state the novel ends with. The suffering of this war, to Brittain, is not redeeming or refining--it is simply destructive suffering. She describes suffering: "At first, pain beyond a certain point merely makes you lifeless, and apathetic to everything but itself" (193). This effect of suffering is clearly scene in Brittain's own letters and narrative as she explains all that takes place upon the death of those she was closest to. Brittain does not blossom because of her pain and turn into a saint. Instead, she becomes a shell of the girl she was.

When Brittain is spending time with her mother, who is ill, she begins to become aware of how little work she has done for the war effort. She writes, "I felt myself a deserter, a coward, a traitor to my patients and the other nurses" (433). Brittain is looking over a letter from her friend, and it reminds her of her own supposed duty in the war. It is not a patriotic or religious duty for her. The duty she feels appears to be one connected to her own knowledge of the soldiers' circumstances and those she lost. She even states: "I did not propose to submit to pious dissertations on my duty to God, King and Country. That voracious trio had already deprived me of all that I valued most in life" (450). Though she may work in a religious hospital for a governmental agency, Brittain is spurred on by letters from other nurses and her own experiences.