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Touchstone anthology of contemporary creative nonfiction Essay

Comparative essay assignment


            “In the Trenches” written by Charles Yale Harrison and “This Is Not Who We Are” written by Naomi Shihab are two different pieces of work which outline almost the same message. The analysis of these two stories differs in various ways such as application of styles, themes and imagery as articulated in each of the writings. Both contexts give a description about the occurrence of wars in the twentieth century in America but in different parts.

            In the trenches which are written by Canadian writer Charles Yale Harrison is a story about the Canadian war which starts in Monreal, a place where an unidentified soldier who is twenty years old is together with Canadian soldiers formulating to set up the Germans in Belgium and France. In this writing, a horrifying and realistic portrayal is described in an antiwar statement. This story is expressed from the first person point of opinion of a soldier who is in a trench. The writer begins the story by describing his close relationship with his fellow soldiers; Anderson, Brown, Broadbent and Cleary and then shifts to the scenes of the infamous World War 1 trenches whereby the conditions are filthy and the soldiers are continually exposed to the flesh-looting rainfalls, lice and huge rats (Harrison, 2002).

            However, Naomi Shihab, Arab-American poet is the writer of “This is not who we are” which is almost similar to the “in the trenches” although the writer of this story depict it in form of a poem. This story begins with the writer’s personal life who seek relative safety in the American southwest which is a place torn by war. She describes her marital and emotional connection to Palestine since this is her ancestral homeland. The writer offers evidence of life in safer environment which she feels the disgrace of being an Arab in America at a time when every Arab is considered suspect, including her (Nye, 1997). Nevertheless, the introduction of these two stories brings a perspective on what the entire story is all about. The ideas between the two stories are presented in a different way depending on the kind of structure and form of each author. Therefore both contain different or similar themes, styles and literary devices in delivering the message which the author wants to communicate.


            Both stories have employed styles in communicating the message to the targeted audience in form of simile, metaphor, personification and imagery. Similes is the main style applied in both contexts, Naomi Shihab, the writer of “This is not who we are” begins by describing Arab-American skillful violinist as a stylish man who dresses decorous black suits and white shirts and plays like an angel. The writer adds that she wish for world symbols rather than the expensive American vehicles which wear American flags like hula skirts. This shows how she wished that the war could end rather than being prosperous and rich in a violent land. Moreover, the writer proceeds to describe the world that she wished to be and there is application of another simile when she states that she can “treasure the welcoming world of women…, smiling, nurturing, fixing, tending and wrapping language around one another like a warm cloak”. Similarly, Charles Yale Harrison has also applied similes in his writing when he was in the trench and states that he seen the whole army of wire posts beginning to move like a silent host towards him (Harrison, 2002). As the condition of war worsens, the writer depicts the boys who were in firing-step saying that they were like dead men.

            In addition, as the soldiers struggles in the dirt trench to save their lives, the writer applies simile by stating that they try to hideaway into the ground like frightened rats. However, Charles Yale Harrison describes the red-tailed comets which were sent by the Germans as looking pretty like the fireworks they have left in Monreal adding that the sky is lit by hundreds of extravagant fireworks like a night carnival which sounds very ironical. During the process of protecting themselves from the explosives, the writer illustrate using a simile stating that the soldiers thrown their faces downward on the bottom of the grovel and trench like savages before that demoniac havoc. The application of similes in these two stories helps the audience to generate a kind of comparison which improves the understanding of what is going on.

            Moreover, metaphors and imagery has been applied in these two stories. Naomi Shihab (1997) describes the terrorist as men with hard faces who do vicious things. Although the terrorists are Arabs, the writer does not refer them as Arabs since she is one of them and wants to show that all Arabs are not terrorists. The behavior of men with the hard faces causes the writer to defend herself and her people against the idea that she is one of those with hard faces who choose fierceness over words. This demonstration serves a major drive of explaining that blaming all Arabs because of behavior of the few terrorists is unfair. The writer states a story about a gentleman who approaches her; this makes her afraid because she a half Arab thus this makes her to be momentarily tongue-tied but later finds her voice. Correspondingly, Harrison applies much of imagery and metaphors while describing the nature of the trench during war. He states that the trench is unsanitary due to the presence of mud, huge rats, flesh-rotting rainfalls and lice (Reid, 2004). The condition of the trench does not keep soldiers comfortable since they struggle to protect themselves from explosives of their enemies yet the place they are hiding is not safe. This story is distressing and upsetting; illuminating the certainties of war through the eyes of a young soldier and the impressions they fragment.


            Theme of war is general from both stories since the principal message is about the occurrence of war. This theme develops strongly in “In the Trenches” written by Charles Yale Harrison, war between his fellow soldiers and the Europeans begins from the first line up to the last line. According to the writer, the war is horrifying and we find a sense of shock at the cruelty of war which alters depression to the soldiers. Charles Yale Harrison’s memoir leads us to wonder about why humans continue to retort to war in response to worldwide clashes while being fully conscious of its ferocity (Williford and Martone, 2007). The writer states how one of his fellow soldier said loudly as they argue that no wonder they are losing the bloody war. Moreover, the writer keeps stating that “so this is war” in many parts of the story thus depicting that the war is occurring. Conversely, Naomi Shihab describes the theme of war in form of terrorism which is caused by the men with hard faces. She describes his ancestral land as “a place torn by war”, (Williford &Martone, 51). This can evidently show the presence of war when she was writing this story.

            However, theme of suffering is another theme which has been described in both pieces of writing. Harrison begins describing the theme of suffering by describing how his friend by the name Fry suffers with his feet, as he keeps sliding into holes and creeping out, all the way up. The writer adds that he can hear his friend coughing and panting behind him. In addition the writer states that his nose is bleeding from the force of the detonations (Reid, 2004). Generally, Harrison gives description on how they are affected by the conditions of the trench as they try to protect themselves from the explosives; this brings the theme of suffering plainly. Similarly, Naomi Shihab states that she cannot forget the fate of the people who suffer the daily indignities of surviving in a world at war, of persistent pain caused by the men with hard faces. In addition the writer says that she hold in heart so many distressed individuals because all friends and families of innocent victims affected by war are everywhere. This means that there were many people suffering due to the violence which was happening (Nye, 1997).


            Generally, by comparing the two pieces of writing, I can conclude that they portray the same message but in a different manner and style because both stories focuses heavily on the conceit of war and violence in relation to the society. Harrison brings a clear perspective of the soldiers who were simply unexperienced youths, fighting ineffectively for meaningless ideals. Naomi Shihab brings a general explanation that blaming all Arabs for behavior of the few terrorists is absolute unfair. Both stories shape the future altitudes to war and develop a strong enthusiasm to the audience.


Harrison, C. (2002). Generals die in bed. Toronto: Annick Press.

Nye, N. (1997). Habibi. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers.

Reid, J. H. (2004). Award-winning films of the 1930s: From Wings to Gone with the wind : the definitive guide. Morrisville, NC: Lulu Press.

The Canadian republic magazine. (1929). Montreal: s.n.

Williford, L., & Martone, M. (2007). Touchstone anthology of contemporary creative nonfiction. New York: Simon & Schuster.

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