The poem also illustrates how the man’s lifestyle changed dramatically through contrasts between his past life and his current state to show the theme of loss. He was once described as a great athlete and was popular with girls but now he is in a wheelchair and they touch him like a “queer disease”, and he notices how “their eyes pass from him to the strong men that were whole”, this is contrast to before when he was the centre of attention. He is no longer seen as a normal person. The analogy is drawn between being a soldier and playing sports highlights the selfish motives the man had for joining the army such as ‘jewelled hilts, daggers in plaid socks and smart salutes’ which can be seen as a very naïve view of the army. This contrast is chilling and distressing as it shows his loss though comparisons between his past and his present state. The idea of how much he has lost is made worse when the ‘Only a solemn man who brought him fruits, Thanked him; and then enquired about his soul.’, this section is quite significant as it shows that there is only one man who cares to ask how he is and only then he is only caring because of his own selfish reasons, helping further the theme of loss on ‘Disabled’. The poem ends on a sad and mundane note as the man wonders why “they” do not come and put him to bed. It is a reminder that he will have to have to be man is now reliant on others to help him and that he has nothing to live for anymore furthering the sense of loss in ‘Disabled’.
Owen wrote this poem to express the damage done through war towards the humanity of the soldiers and men involved; he evokes empathy in the readers using techniques such as war imagery and personification. In the first stanza, he makes us, as readers, feel distant from the ‘mental cases’, ‘these’, ‘they’ and ‘their’ all create a space between us and them; however, he includes us in line eight, ‘we’ are mentioned (line 8). By not naming them, he makes a representation of what they lost (who they are and how you define them). He dehumanises them by creating horror through the use of violent images like ‘gouged’, where the reader gets an image of scooping out something, adding a dark aspect of torture.
The language in this poem is indicative of the care taken by Owen to find precisely the perfect words and language devices to suit his purpose. After the opening word –”He” – which reflects the impersonal nature of the poem Owen’s scene setting, introduces a sequence of telling linguistic choices: The soldier waits for “dark”, prefiguring death as well as the end of the day; he wears a “ghastly suit of grey” which not only bleaches colour and strength form the young man but also introduces a sense of the hellish and the ghostly into the poem; The third line, after shocking the reader with the opening “Legless”, breaks half way through – This sudden break is followed by references to unattainable “voices” of boys and play – the very thing this boy will no longer have access to before Owen uses the verb “mothering” to imply a sense of security and motherly love, both of which he is now denied. Another feature of the writing is the use of active verbs and euphemism when discussing his injury. He “threw away his knees” as though nothing more than waste paper; he “poured” his blood down shell holes, again making the soldier the agent of his own misfortunes. Owen avoids any graphic description of the wound, instead telling his tale of how it used to be when the boy was carried shoulder high with a “smear” of blood on his thigh –a far cry from the heroic “leap of purple” which “leaps” so athletically from him as he receives his crippling wound. At the end of the poem, after the contrast with the “whole” man further emphasising his helpless and disabled figure, Owen places the reader into the soldier’s head and forces us to share his anguish. The repeated “why they don’t come?” haunts the reader as it is a question that we simply cannot answer and possibly fear to do so. It is about the attitude of those who remained at home and allowed others to fight for them; about those who shy away from the ill, the crippled and the infirm.
Throughout the poem, Owen recounts the man’s life and present condition over seven stanzas of differing lengths; Sadness and despair are threaded through every verse. The lines fragment as the sentences become short and broken. In this stanza Owen writes in line 3 a line which manages to look both ways –first explaining the image created in the opening couplet and then, as it moves to line 4 showing the reader that it was on the back of his heroic sporting exploits that the boy “thought he’d better join”. The link is clearly made between sport and the image of war portrayed by the authorities of the time. This sense of propaganda is carried on into the next stanza and built up to further stress the contrast with his return and the eerie man who “thanked” him – the italics stressing the word possibly to highlight the lack of thanks received form official quarters – before trying to use his injury to engage him in a proselytising exercise.