Alicante Journal of English Studies / Revista Alicantina de Estudios Ingleses

Dramatic Representation of Trench Space as an ‘Experiential Ruin’ in R.C. Sherriff’s Journey’s End and Sean O’Casey’s The Silver Tassie

Jonathan Patterson



Physical forms of ruin and psychological forms of ruination is an area within spatial theory that will enhance literary studies, especially literature of the First World War. The literary representation of the trench as a ruined space is a predominant feature of literature that emerges from the Great War. Among the different genres, it is drama that is ideally poised to offer a critique of the way both physical and psychological ruin can be depicted on the stage. Both R.C. Sherriff’s Journey’s End and Sean O’Casey’s The Silver Tassie consciously depict trench space as a site of embodied trauma for soldiers who experienced trench warfare and, consequently, trench space functions as an ‘experiential ruin.’ This ‘embodied exchange’ emphasizes the relationship between the battlefield (or cite of trauma) and the actual war-related trauma itself. Both Sherriff and O’Casey have created plays that show the decaying landscape and decaying psyche as inseparable victims to the devastation of the First World War.


Spatial theory; ruins; embodiment; ecology


Boym, Svetlana (2010): “Ruins of the Avant-Garde: From Tatlin’s Tower to Paper Architecture”. In J. Hell and A. Schonle, eds., Ruins of Modernity. North Carolina: Duke University Press, 58-87.

Caruth, Cathy (2011): Trauma: Explorations in Memory. Johns Hopkins University.

Dale, Karen and Gibson Burrell (2011): “Disturbing structure: Reading the ruins”. Culture and Organization, 17(2): 107–121.

DeSilvey, Caitlin and Tim Edensor (2013): “Reckoning with Ruins”. Progress in Human Geography, 37(4): 465-85.

Eliot, T.S. (2003): The Waste Land and Other Poems. New York: Penguin Classics.

Foucault, Michel (1986): “Of Other Spaces”. Diacritics, 16(1): 22-27.

Ginsberg, Robert (2004): The Aesthetics of Ruins. Amsterdam: Rodopi B.V.

Hell, Julia and Andreas Schonle, eds. (2010): Ruins of Modernity. North Carolina: Duke University Press.

Huyssen, Andreas (2011): “Authentic Ruins”. In B. Dillon, ed., Ruins: Documents of Contemporary Art. Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 52-55.

Kilroy, Thomas (1975): Sean O’Casey: A Collection of Critical Essays. Prentice-Hall, Inc.

Macaulay, Rose (2011): Pleasure of Ruins. South Carolina: Nabu Press.

McDonald, Ronan (2002): Tragedy and Irish Literature: Synge, O’Casey, Beckett. New York: Palgrave.

Mello, Leo (2011): Reading the Ruins: Modernism, Bombsites and British Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Murray, Christopher (2004): Sean O’Casey: Writer at Work, A Biography. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press.

O’Casey, Sean (1928): The Silver Tassie. London: Macmillan and Co.

Sherriff, Robert Cedric. (1929): Journey’s End. London: Penguin Books.

Simmel, George (1958): “The Ruin”. The Hudson Review, 11(3): 371-385.

Trigg, Dylan (n.d.): “The Place of Trauma: Memory, Hauntings, and the Temporality Of Ruins". Memory Studies, 2(1): 87-101.

Wales, Roland (2016): From Journey’s End to The Dam Busters: The Life of R.C. Sherriff, Playwright of the Trenches. Barnsley, England: Pen & Sword Military Press.

Woodward, Christopher (2002): In Ruins. New York: Pantheon.


Copyright (c) 2018 Jonathan Patterson

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.