Siegfried Sassoon's short poem "The Hero" (full text here) is about a young soldier who has died in the First World War, and describes the news of his death being given to his grieving mother.

When I studied this poem for an English literature GCSE, I remember disliking the character of the "Brother Officer", thinking him an arrogant, patronising man who had more contempt than sympathy for the dead man and his mother. So I was surprised to read commentary from an examiner which was much more positive about him and painted him as a sympathetic figure.

How is the Brother Officer being portrayed in this poem?

Especially since the poem is written from his point of view, this question should be answerable by close reading - perhaps the choice of words used to describe him or his thoughts can be analysed to deduce his attitudes. Answers which draw on extratextual information, such as Sassoon's attitude towards the army, would also be welcome.

  • I agree with your reading, and may write an answer to that effect. Can you link to the review you read? I'm not sure that I understand their point of view.
    – Shokhet
    Jul 18, 2017 at 20:30
  • @Shokhet Sorry, no, I can't link to it. It was in a GCSE examiner's report; I'm not sure if those are published online, nor do I remember even which exam board I was studying from.
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jul 18, 2017 at 23:26

1 Answer 1


I agree with your reading of the poem, Rand. On reading the poem, I did not find any evidence to support that the "Brother Officer" is nice. I did, however, find plenty of evidence to the contrary, primarily from the third stanza, which is composed of Brother Officer's private thoughts. Here are some:

  • 'Jack', cold-footed, useless swine,

    The officer has only negative, malicious thoughts about the fallen soldier -- a "sympathetic figure" would not consider a fallen soldier a "useless swine" even if that soldier was not the sharpest tool in the shed or a little afraid of battle. (And "'Jack'," in quote marks? Did you even know this soldier?)

  • And no one seemed to care

    Why don't you care, Brother Officer? Aren't you "sympathetic" toward this soldier who died in service of his country, or his mother?

  • And no one seemed to care
    Except that lonely woman with white hair.

    "that lonely woman with the white hair" is a mother who just lost her son in war. "Sympathetic figure" my foot.

There are a few other small clues in the poem that point toward this conclusion, but I think that these are the most egregious.

  • 1
    +1. A few more quotes which I felt were indicative: "poor old dear" (this sounds patronising to me - not sure if it's a Britishism); "lies [t]hat she would nourish all her days, no doubt" (again sounds arrogant and condescending); "Blown to small bits" (seems a very callous way to describe a horrible death).
    – Rand al'Thor
    Jul 18, 2017 at 23:30

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