Academic journal article Notes on Contemporary Literature

Allusions to Wilfred Owen's "An Anthem for Doomed Youth" in Malcolm Lowry's under the Volcano

Academic journal article Notes on Contemporary Literature

Allusions to Wilfred Owen's "An Anthem for Doomed Youth" in Malcolm Lowry's under the Volcano

Article excerpt

In the seventh chapter of Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano (NY: Perennial Classics, 2000. 1947), Lowry makes two explicit but subtle allusions to the World War One poet Wilfred Owen's "An Anthem for Doomed Youth." Through Geoffrey Firmin's musing observation about the guns of a Mexican firing practice that recalls the rifles of Owen's poem, Lowry suggests how Firmin's wife's former affair with his friend Jacques Laruelle has figuratively killed their marriage. Additionally, in the novel's conclusion, Firmin literally dies in a manner that recalls the brutal deaths of Owen's young men.

In the first scene, Firmin has just been imagining Laruelle's affair with his wife and specifically thinking of the man's penis as "that hideously elongated cucumiform bundle of blue nerves and gills below the steaming unselfconscious stomach [that] had sought its pleasure in his wife's body" [...] (217). Shortly after this thought, Firmin sees the "puffs of smoke" and hears the "rattle of musketry" as he looks out over the balcony toward the site of a live ammunition drill by a local contingent of the Mexican army. (217) The "rattle of musketry" recalls the third line of Wilfred Owen's "Anthem for Doomed Youth" that refers to "the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle" (The Poems of Wilfred Owen, ed. Jon Stallworthy. [NY: Norton, 1986]: 76, my emphasis). Firmin then says aloud to Laruelle, "Mass reflexes, but only the erections of guns, disseminating death" [...]. (217) Although Laruelle does not hear his remark, Firmin's subtle allusion to the second line of Owen's poem suggests how deeply wounded he has been by this affair.

The second line of the poem runs, "--Only the monstrous anger of the guns" (my emphasis; 76). Lowry often disguises allusions in the novel through changing some of the words in the original phrase. …

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