William Dean Howells was an advocate of realism in writing; he believed that literary art should reflect the reality of the common man and demonstrate the truth of everyday current issues. He believed in truthful writing and he accepted very little at face value. He practiced this belief in his own writing, and his story called “Editha” is a good example of this. In this ironic tragedy, W.D. Howells shows the truth and nature of war. He uses a combination of metaphoric characters, irony, and the pathos appeal to create an almost grotesque parody of the reality of war. In final analysis, Howells is successful in highlighting the consequences of war and inspiring the audience to question the wisdom of those who advocate armed conflict.
“Editha” is a story about a manipulative woman named Editha Balcom and her suitor, George Gearson. The plot of this story is focused on a war and whether or not George will join the fight. He is conflicted between his pacifist nature and social conditioning and what he knows Editha wishes for him to do. Editha is determined that George will fight in the war, even if she has to manipulate him into doing so. George does join the fighting and is immediately killed. In the end of the story, Editha visits George’s grieving mother and is met with resentment and contempt.
In order to appeal to a resistant audience and appeal to their emotions, Howells uses the character Editha as a metaphor for the warmongers of his time. He intentionally portrays Editha in a subtly predatory light to influence the reader’s opinion of war advocates and of war itself. Editha is manipulative, self-serving, and delusional in her deeply ingrained sense of personal power. Her motives for wanting George to join the battle are self-serving because she sees the war as a social stepping stone and a means of making him prove his devotion. In contrast, the author uses George as a metaphor for those who would fight, kill, and die in the war; this element is an important part of the author’s persuasive strategy. W.D. Howells wants to appeal to the values and the emotional sensibility of his audience, for this reason, Howells portrays George as passive and unsure of himself. George is fearful of the war and he sees no glory in it. He believes that God is peaceful and the idea that God would advocate for war runs counter to George’s belief in peace. In short, the author uses George’s story to illustrate the consequences of war for the reader. This strategy works to persuade a resistant audience to relate to George, hence, lowering their resistance to the anti-war message of this piece.
W.D. Howells uses irony to illuminate the difference of perspective and conflict of interest between Editha and George. Editha is so busy trying to fix what she believes is wrong with George; she does not recognize the flaws in her own thinking. She secretly sees George as less than he is because of his peaceful nature, and she does not imagine that...