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The novel, The Wars, by Timothy Findley is about the life and death of Robert Ross. Ross, a nineteen-year-old soldier joins the army to fight in World War II to escape the grief of losing his sister. He is also stressed by the Victorian lifestyle and believes that society is cruel. The young soldier is caught between his duty, pride as a man, and the guilt he feels over his sister’s death as he makes his life choices. Indeed, there are some cultural elements that also shape his perspective on life and war. This essay analyzes the issue of conformity and non-conformity as presented in the novel.
Conformity and Non-Conformity
Conformity can be described as a social influence that is used to change a belief or behavior for the purposes of fitting into a group (Motyl and Schober 16). Motyl and Schober explain that the change experienced due to conformity can be because of a physical or imagined stimulus (17). There are three types of conformity, namely, internalization, compliance, and identification (Motyl and Schober 17). Those that conform to societal influences are known to support the status quo. Motyl and Schober agree that conformity only occurs when the ideals and beliefs of a larger group are adopted by someone considered to be of a different group (16). Therefore, one can argue that non-conformity refers to the rejection of such group pressures and staying true to one’s own beliefs. It is important to note that people can shift from conformity to non-conformity often as they interact with different groups.
It is equally important to stress that the issue of conformity is based on the person’s ability and willingness to fit into a group or culture. There are people who have conformed to a group simply so that they can be viewed as “right”. An example can be given to explain further. Person A lives in a society where Muslims are thought to be terrorists. Due to societal pressures, person A changes his religion and becomes a Christian. However, at home, he still practices Islam. This type of conformity is referred to as informational, where the person has a desire to appear “correct” but still stands by his or her beliefs. For example, when Ross is raped in a mental institution, he assumes that the men involved are mad as no sane man could have sexual intercourse with another. Additionally, he views women as sexual objects and has very rough sexual intercourse with one of the characters in the novel. The novel being reviewed has instances of both conformity and non-conformity. The next section of the paper will analyze these instances.
Conformity in the novel The Wars
One can argue that Ross’s decision to join the army is a form of conformity. Several things support this premise. First, there is no indication that he had intended to join the army before his sister’s death. Secondly, the conditions that led to his enrolment (his sister’s death and his guilt over it) depict an informational type of conformity. He wanted to feel right, not guilty. This is also highlighted later after his violation, where he rationalizes that his sister’s death.
Juliet’s behavior towards Ross is also a type of conformity. The same concept applies if one was to compare Juliet to her sister Barbara. Whereas Barbara is a free spirit and depicted as a loose woman who moves from one relationship to another quickly, Juliet is reserved and responsible. Barbara is seen to represent modern women who could do what they want while Juliet is the opposite. Indeed, when Ross arrives at their home, Juliet develops feelings for him and tries to sleep with him by dressing as a lady thought to be haunting the house. One can argue that Juliet would not normally dress up to please a man. Therefore, she conformed to the pressures of joining the “modern women” group.
Non-Conformity in the novel The Wars
On the same note, there are several instances of non-conformity in the novel. One can argue that Ross’s act of defiance towards the army is a type of non-conformity. Up to that time, Ross had followed all instructions he had been given by his superiors in the army. However, he refused to let the horses burn to death and ended up killing his superior to free both the horses and himself. Despite his failure, his action of defiance proves non-conformity. Indeed, Ross’s love and attachment to animals hhavebeen clear from the beginning of the story. However, he had already stopped feeling guilty over the death of his sister. Therefore, he had no reason to defy his orders, yet, he did. Additionally, Ross’s decision to die slowly and painfully is a form of non-conformity. During the war, many of the soldiers sustained injuries and were euthanized to ensure they did not suffer. However, Ross refused the treatment choosing instead to “commit to life despite death” (Findley 216).
Juliet’s behavior towards Ross can also be used to explain non-conformity. Even though she desired to join the group of “modern women” like her sister, she felt a strong attraction to Ross and tried to seduce him. Indeed, it is possible that the fact that she saw her sister have intimate relations with Ross was traumatizing, especially because it was so rough that she thought Ross was hurting Barbara. The trauma might have encouraged Juliet to stay true to her beliefs and this, eventually, led to non-conformity.
In conclusion, the novel The Wars has various instances of both conformity and non-conformity. Indeed, conformity is the act of changing one’s own values and beliefs and adopting new ones in order to fit into a certain group. The main driving force of conformity is group pressures. The novel The Wars focuses on the story of Robert Ross, who displays instances of both conformity and non-conformity. For example, he agrees to join the army in order to feel “right” after his sister’s death. However, while in the army, he refuses to take an order from his superior and kills him, proving non-conformity. From Ross’s experience, one can argue that there are dangerous consequences of non-conformity. Despite this, he strongly believes that his sister was a pure soul that did not deserve to live in the cruel world he had come to loath. Ross’s defiance of order led to death and destruction. This goes to prove that larger groups will always do what they have to, to ensure their beliefs and values are upheld by all their members.
Findley, Timothy. The Wars. Penguin Books, 1996.
Motyl, Katharina, and Regina Schober, editors. The Failed Individual: Amid Exclusion, Resistance, and the Pleasure of Non-Conformity. Campus Verlag, 2017.