“With his back turned on this fading happiness Chris walked across the lawn. He was looking up under his brows at the overarching house as though it were a hated place to which, against all his hopes, business had forced him to return. He stepped aside to avoid a patch of brightness cast by a lighted window on the grass; lights in our house were worse than darkness, affection worse than hate elsewhere. He wore a dreadful decent smile; I knew how his voice would resolutely lift in greeting us. He walked not loose-limbed like a boy, as he had done that very afternoon, but with the soldier’s hard tread upon the heel. It recalled to me that, bad as we were, we were yet not the worst circumstance of his return. When we had lifted the yoke of our embraces from his shoulders he would go back to that flooded trench in Flanders under that sky more full of flying death than clouds, to that No Man’s Land where bullets fall like rain on the rotting faces of the dead…”
Chris gravely walks back to his house and his previous life as a man might walk to his death, accepting his fate with a “dreadful decent smile.” The Baldrys have insisted on awaking Chris from his peaceful slumber of delusional happiness for the sake of “truth” which actually turns out to be for the sake of their own social acceptance. When Jenny considers not confronting Chris with reality, the thing that eventually convinces her she must is the thought of Chris growing old and being a “queer-shaped patch of eccentricity on the countryside” (88). She says “he would not be quite a man”(88) if they allowed him to live in his delusion and even the way he walked has altered from walking loose-limbed like a boy earlier in the day to the “soldier’s hard tread upon the heel.” The key word here being “man.” This suggests that it would be perfectly acceptable to allow a woman or a child to live in this kind of delusion, but the thought of allowing a man to behave that way is unacceptable. As much as this book is about Chris’s trauma and struggle with his post war depression, it is also about Jenny’s struggle with her failure in the typical role of being a woman and Kitty’s struggle, though she is too shallow to realize it. At several points throughout the novel she states that they have failed in protecting Chris, which is what they always aimed to do. She is jealous that Margaret has the ability to protect Chris. She says, “It means that the woman has gathered the soul of the man into her soul and is keeping it warm in love and peace so that his body can rest quiet for a little time. That is a great thing for a woman to do” (70). Just as Chris is forced at the end to take on the hard walk of the soldier (the extreme representation of a manly man”), Jenny, Kitty, and Margaret are forced to take on this role of protecting him, which they fail to do. The Baldry’s insistence that Chris be a man and face reality despite the unhappiness that it clearly will bring him is parallel to their insistence that the women be women and attempt to protect him even though they are doomed to fail. As Chris walks back to this life that he is doomed to be miserable in, Jenny seems to realize that she and Kitty are also doomed to be miserable in it, because they will never fully live up to their role of protecting him. Kitty’s ignorant claim of “He’s cured!” stands as the last line of the book, ironically showing that while yes he is in the technical sense of the word cured, he is going to be miserable for the rest of his life. This also is illuminates perhaps the greatest gap between Kitty and Jenny, a gap which was not as apparent at the beginning of the book, because Jenny seems to understand that this “cure” is not a good thing. Chris will always go back to that place under “the sky more full of flying death than clouds” and Jenny and Kitty will never be able to make him happy in the way that they are conditioned to believe that they must. In this way, the war completely tore apart the gender roles that had dominated the family dynamics before. Chris is traumatized by the things he has seen in the war, even though soldiers (men) are supposed to be hard and tough, and so he will ultimately fail in his previous role as a man. At the same time Kitty and Jenny can’t protect the man they love from the things he has seen, and so they too fail in their roles. In this light, Kitty’s exclamation of “He’s cured!” is so incredibly far from the truth. What exactly is he cured of? His delusion? Well yes, but now he is doomed to a life of misery. So in short, well said Kitty. You’ve really got a good grasp on this one.