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Anti-War Points In the short story “Editha” by William Dean Howells, Howells uses an ignorant character in Editha to emphasize the relevance of historical romance, specifically in war.
By introducing a main character as oblivious as Editha to the consequences of war, Howells highlights the idea that war presents an opportunity for young boys to accept a glorious transition into adulthood. This, however, completely overlooks the fact that war could just as well physically and psychologically harm its participants.
Editha is a young girl that consistently persuades George, her boyfriend, to enlist in the Spanish-American war.
Editha “[has always supposed that the man who won her would have done something to win her,” in this case, she hopes that George’s enlisting in the war would satisfy that belief (Howells 376). It is her belief and dream of having a hero in her life that drives her to bully George into submission. After much argument with George, he finally enlists in the war and is among the first few soldiers that are killed.
While George satisfies Editha’s desires, he does so in a very abnormal way through his own death. Howell’s characterization of Editha, who believes her boyfriend should undertake the route of historical romance, becomes the death of George and further stresses the penalties and costs of war. While war has a general view of nationalism and patriotism, Howells makes a clever counterclaim through the actions of Editha in this short story. First and foremost, following George’s death, Editha appropriately wears black out of respect for her deceased loved one before visiting Mrs.
Gearson, George’s mother. Ironically, Editha lacks the right to honor the death of her boyfriend. While it was the war that killed George, another viewpoint would agree that Editha was the indirect murderer of the unsuspecting and timid character of George. George never had any intentions of enlisting for the battle, and most likely only did so to fulfill Editha’s requirements of him. Unfortunately, George’s death was only a small light of clarity into what war really is. This leads to one of Howells’intentions and a second major point of analysis in Editha’s character: despite the tragedy that had occurred, Editha still fails to realize the realities and cruelties that war brings, “[beginning) to live again in the ideal” (Howells 385). When Editha goes to visit Mrs. Gearson, the poor mother snaps at Editha by telling the new widow that she did not expect George’s death after “[giving him] up to their country” (Howells 385). By introducing this eye opener for the reader, Howells makes an intelligent point by subtly relating Editha to a vast majority of our country’s population. Like Editha, many people do not expect the brave soldiers to return as corpses, which leads to much general support for wars through nationalism. It is through these wars that many loved ones become mere memories, much like George became for his mother and Editha. Additionally, many people like Editha keep supporting the war effort despite the tragedies that occur, but this is not surprising. Because Editha did not personally experience the horrors and paranoia of the battlefield for herself, she continues to live in her ideal, a perfect depiction of what Howells considers the real tragedy of war.
Another short story, “Désirée’s Baby” by Kate Chopin, also makes a point similar to William Dean Howell in that the prospect of war is present and argued against; however, Chopin uses a much more orthodox method to introduce this conflict. Instead of presenting the idea of war specifically, Chopin offers the underlying problem of racial prejudice, which has been a shaky subject in the United States to this day. These racial differences in the United States has led to several conflicts in the past, including the American Civil War. By highlighting the differences between Désirée and Armand Aubigny, Chopin allows the reader to understand the actual insignificance of skin color, which has gone great lengths to causing many struggles in the United States.
Désirée is a beautiful young girl who, eighteen years after her birth, marries a powerful and respected man in Armand Aubigny. Despite the mystery behind Désirée’s past, Armand continues to love the eighteen-year-old and proceeds to have a child with her. Unsuspectingly, the child bears dark skin tinted with slavery, therefore leading Armand to believe that she “[Désirée, is) not white” (Chopin 554). Here, Chopin identifies the major issue in racism: limiting love and care for something as insignificant as skin tone. Ironically, skin color was not insignificant for the population in this era, the 1800’s. If Armand had loved Désirée before the baby, then this scene accentuates the importance of the void belief in white supremacy. Chopin shows the reader a questionable decision from Armand, who grows cold toward his child and wife. In contrast to Armand’s belief, Désirée knows, however, that this did not come from her bloodline. Despite being given the blame and the shame, Désirée still offers her love to Armand, who refuses. The dark child merely leads to a colder Armand and further distance between the two until Désirée finally decides to return to Madame Valmondé, her mother. By contrasting the emotions split between Désirée and Armand, Chopin underscores the split between the Union and the Confederacy before the American Civil War. Like the Union, Désirée fights for Armand’s love, acknowledging the insignificance of a colored child. Armand, however, isn’t moved and takes great pride in his name, convinced that this child was a punishment from God. He refuses to integrate, allowing Désirée to leave the household. It is not until Armand decides to burn the letters given to him by Désirée when he discovers a letter from his mother to his father, stating that she is glad Armand will never know “that he is cursed with the brand of slavery” (Chopin 555).
Just like racial prejudice has created many conflicts in the United States, Chopin utilizes the clash between Armand and Désirée to make an interesting anti-war point, where the offended is actually the offender.
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