Inspection Poem Wilfred Owen Analysis Essay

Inspection - Imagery, symbolism and themes

Imagery and symbolism in Inspection

Blood, dirt and washing

The whole of Inspection is threaded through with the image of blood and dirt. The man is charged with being ‘dirty on parade’ and afterwards he refers to the stain as a ‘damned spot’. Owen uses this allusion to Lady Macbeth’s words in Shakespeare’s play Macbeth ambiguously:

  • The soldier curses the dirt which he was unable to remove. It was ‘damned’ because it was impossible to remove and frustrated him. It damned him as it also caused him to be punished
  • Owen, the officer, reports the speech to us. He is aware of the implications of guilt associated with the blood, which haunts Lady Macbeth as she tries to clean her hands while she sleep-walks. 

In Inspection blood and dirt are the same thing: according to army regulations they are both elements that soil the man’s uniform. The man is bitter as he acknowledges that, while blood should be seen as precious and a costly sacrifice, the army does indeed treat it (and those who offer it) as ‘dirt’. At a deeper level, Owen plays with the idea that the loss of blood equates to the loss of life and the literal and symbolic return of humans to the ‘clay’ from which the Bible asserts they were made.


The world is washing out its stains l.12

The soldier uses personification to illustrate his point about blood and dirt. The world is seen, like Lady Macbeth, to be struggling to get rid of ‘stains’ of which it is presumably guilty. The punitive world powers object to the ‘cheeks so red’ of the ‘Young’ l.13. However once the soldiers are dead they will be colourless. They will be white-washed by death in the way the army white-washed coal and other unsightly things in camp before an important inspection - the term ‘to white-wash’ implies a cover up. 


Symbolically, Owen uses the image of blood as a symbol for death and sacrifice. The idea of the world washing out its stains comes from the Christian symbolism of sinners being washed clean in the blood of Christ (see Big Ideas from the Bible > Blood).

The soldier ironically compares God to a Field Marshal, the top rank in the army, and the final judgement to a military parade when the whole human ‘race’ will be inspected and held accountable for its ‘stains’, particularly the way in which it has sacrificed its young.

Investigating imagery and symbolism in Inspection

  • Young blood is an important symbol in Inspection. Look for references to youth / blood in Disabled and Anthem for Doomed Youth and compare the different ways in which Owen refers to it in all three poems.
    • What message does he convey through these references?

Themes in Inspection


Blood is used in Inspection as a metaphor for both life and death. It speaks of both sacrifice and guilt. According to Christian understanding, only Jesus, who shed his own blood for the sake of humankind, can wash away the sins and stains accumulated by humanity. However, if God (or his church) is aligned with the Field Marshal, head of a culpable army, who is left to cleanse and absolve the world’s guilt at killing so many men?

Guilt and judgement

In Inspection Owen deals with the routines of war but juxtaposes them with the horrors suffered and sacrifices made by those involved. Although Owen gives us a portrait of himself, he recognises his lack of sympathy, his inhumanity towards the man because of the strict orders under which the war makes him live. The theme of guilt is subtly suggested here, as it is with the reference to Lady Macbeth and the final judgement. This theme of judgement ranges from what is seen by the man as a petty fault to the final judgment which will be made both on the dead and those who were responsible for their dying.

Investigating themes in Inspection

  • Blood, sacrifice and guilt are the main themes in Inspection, as they are in many other of Owen’s poems. Compare this poem with the references to blood and sacrifice in Disabled
  • Guilt is a more subtle theme. How does Owen present it in this poem?
  • Remind yourself of The Send Off and ‘wrongs hushed up’ and the closing line of Mental Cases
    • How does the theme of guilt, upon which Owen touches in these poems, compare with the theme of guilt in Inspection?

A passing reference to a text or historical fact.

The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament scriptures inherited from Judaism, together with the New Testament, drawn from writings produced from c.40-125CE, which describe the life of Jesus and the establishment of the Christian church.

A figure of speech where a non-person, for example an animal, the weather, or some inanimate object, is described as if it were a person, being given human qualities.

In literature, something that is chosen to take on a particular meaning by the writer, e.g. clouds as symbols of mutability.

Name originally given to disciples of Jesus by outsiders and gradually adopted by the Early Church.

Someone who disobeys God's will by their actions or failure to act. The Bible regards all human beings as predisposed to sin.

Important word in the Bible which can have several meanings: a symbol of life; death (through the shedding of blood); guilt (having blood on one's hands); or sacrifice (as a way of bringing about forgiveness for sin).

Title (eventually used as name) given to Jesus, refering to an anointed person set apart for a special task such as a king.

Relating to irony, in which a comment may mean the opposite of what is actually said.

The Bible describes God as the unique supreme being, creator and ruler of the universe.

Highest ranking officer in the British Army (now an honorary title only).

The final judgement on humankind when all will have to give account of their lives to Christ as Judge.

An image or form of comparison where one thing is said actually to be another - e.g. 'fleecy clouds'.

The name given to the man believed by Christians to be the Son of God. Also given the title Christ, meaning 'anointed one' or Messiah. His life is recorded most fully in the Four Gospels.

Disobedience to the known will of God. According to Christian theology human beings have displayed a pre-disposition to sin since the Fall of Humankind.

1. Term for a worshipping community of Christians. 2. The building in which Christians traditionally meet for worship. 3. The worldwide community of Christian believers.

the action of a priest releasing people from their sins after confession

Write an essay about how Owen's poetry describes the plight of the

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Write an essay about how Owen's poetry describes the plight of the soldiers. In many of Wilfred Owen's poems, he describes the suffering and the agony of the common soldier during war, not only on the battlefront, but he also describes the after-effects of war and its cruelty. Owen's poetry is inclined towards and elegiac nature with the function to arouse grief and to stimulate remembrance. Owen is usually best when the emotion of grief predominates over disgust in his poems and when tribute is paid to the men who died "as cattle" rather than when criticism is directly made to the perpetrators of war. Owen refers to his poems as elegies, but they offer no consolation to the readers, serving instead to warn them of the true…show more content…

In the poem Inspection, Wilfred Owen describes how a common soldier is maltreated simply because he had been injured and his uniform was blood-stained. This injustice towards the soldier's suffering is evident in this poem where blood is described as "dirt".
This shows how the soldiers' agony is not appreciated, neither by the
Officer, Owen himself.

Owen recalls several incidents such as in the poem Conscious where he analyses the suffering of a soldier who is in bed. The poet describes as "sudden evening blurs and fogs the air" and the soldier becomes unconscious. In Dulce et Decorum est Wilfred Owen describes the agony an unidentified soldier passes through as he dies of mustard gas; the agony he passed through as he was "guttering, choking, drowning", and while "the blood / Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, /
Obscene as cancer". But Owen doesn't only describe the physical suffering of the soldiers, the visible pain. No, Owen gives detailed description of the psychological torture the soldiers go through. This is clearly evident in the poem The Dead Beat where the poet picks out an incident where a soldier collapses, "more sullenly than wearily" out of mental exhaustion which "crazed him". The mental anguish also comes from the burden of guilt the soldiers have to carry. The guilt of having killed someone; the guilt of having committed murder. This guilt is

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