For many, war has quite an ugly face, yet there are those who seem to view war through rose petal spectacles, hear of its successes in lullabies and speak of its necessity with words dripping with honey. During the eighteenth century, a burgeoning art of literature took hold on the populace, it colored reality in such a manner that one would “fall in love” with it – Romanticism, a term loosely applied to literary and artistic movements of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, Romanticism is:
A literary, artistic, and philosophical movement originating in the 18th century, characterized chiefly by a reaction against neoclassicism and an emphasis on the imagination and emotions, and marked especially in English literature by sensibility and the use of autobiographical material, an exaltation of the primitive and the common man, an appreciation of external nature, an interest in the remote, a predilection for melancholy, and the use in poetry of older verse forms.
During the time period that Ambrose Bierce and William Dean Howells lived, war was a part of life. Both the US Civil War and the Spanish –American War were realities they had to deal with and as realists they set out to highlight the truths of warfare. Their disillusionment with the romanticism’s approach about war in literature was expressed in their popular works, “Chickamauga” and “Editha”. Both authors use the “strong” points of romanticism against itself, the usage of symbolism, along with the role of gender are replete throughout the two short stories.
In his book The Ethics of Moral Resistance: Ambrose Bierce and General William B. Haze; author Peter J. Marrone, states “[…] Bierce’s primary intention in composing his tales and autobiographical accounts was to highlight the diametrically opposing perceptions that soldiers and civilians hold towards war” (400). In “Chickamauga,” Bierce goes all out to shatter the romantic and rudimentary notions about war by presenting its morbid realities: He tells of a little boy who goes off into the woods to play war and be its hero. However, he is eventually jolted into the reality and ugliness of warfare and to his misadventure, life will never be the same. Bierce accomplishes this with such grimacing success that one cannot help having a moment of silence for the boy in the story after reading the closing scene. Captured in this particular scene is the proverbial “collateral damage” of warfare:
For a moment he stood stupefied by the power of the revelation, then ran with stumbling
feet, making a half-circuit of the ruin. There, conspicuous in the light of the
conflagration, lay the dead body of a woman--the white face turned upward, the hands
thrown out and clutched full of grass, the clothing deranged, the long dark hair in tangles
and full of clotted blood. The greater part of the forehead was torn away, and from the
jagged hole the brain protruded, overflowing the temple, a...