Non-human and the Cyclical Presentation of Innocence and Experience in Rebecca West's The Return of the Soldier

Rebecca West's critics face a dilemma in analyzing the interplay between the human and non-human in triggering memories for the shell-shocked protagonist, Chris. While psychoanalytic interpretations focus on the sacrificial roles of women, either individually or collectively, and their impact on Chris's recollection of past experiences, a posthuman perspective delves into the author's deliberate selection of objects, especially those connected to his deceased son. Throughout the novel, the bond between Chris and his son is exemplified through the latter's toys, notably the rocking horse purchased by Chris as a symbolic gift. This object, adorned with Blakean imagery of lamb and tiger, symbolizes the contrast between innocence and experience. In Chapter One, Jenny narrates that Chris, before attending the war, hoped to acquire “an experience that would act on his life like alchemy, turning to gold all the dark metals of events”. Prior to the war, Chris, depicted as a lamb, embodies the innocence of childhood, while post-war experiences transform him into a tiger, symbolizing maturity. The resolution of the narrative, wherein Chris overcomes his amnesia and prepares to return to war, illustrates the cyclical presentation of innocence and experience. The objects selected by Margaret from Oliver's toys—a ball and a jersey, as an article of clothing—serve as reminders of war materials like cannonball and khaki uniform, prompting Chris to mentally prepare for his return to the battle. Therefore, a posthuman interpretation, bolstered by West's dismissal of any psychoanalytic connections to her work, gains credence when considering the implications of the selection and association of objects within the narrative.