Chickamauga Essay, Research Paper
Ambrose Bierce?s ?Chickamauga? is representative of his typical subject matter, theme, and style.
II. Biographical Sketch
A. Military experiences
B. Effect of the loss of his wife and eldest son
III. Bierce?s subject matter
IV. Bierce?s themes
A. Supernatural themes
B. Military themes
V. Bierce?s style of writing
VI. Bierce?s subject matter in ?Chickamauga?
A. Civil War
VII. Bierce?s theme in ?Chickamauga?
VIII. Bierce?s style in ?Chickamauga?
A. Shifting points of view
B. Adult and child perspectives
Ambrose Bierce?s ?Chickamauga? is representative of his typical subject matter, theme, and style. His subject matter often deals with the Civil War and its horrors. Having served in several battles during the Civil War, Bierce strives to display, through his writings, the true devastation which comes as a result of wars. His theme, although sometimes macabre, emphasizes the reality of warfare. Again, Bierce is relying on his own war experiences in order to have his audience empathize with his characters. Ambrose Bierce?s style of writing includes shifting of views from one character to another. With his own unique subject matter, theme, and style, Bierce develops stories which interest readers from generation to generation.
Ambrose Bierce was born in 1842 (May 368). At the age of 19, Ambrose Bierce joined the 9th Indiana Volunteers, in 1861, for the United States of America (Appelbaum iii). He was in several of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War (Appelbaum iii). Bierce was at Chickamauga, where 34,000 men lost their lives (Appelbaum iii). During battles, he risked his own life several times to rescue his fallen comrades (Appelbaum iii). Once, at Kennesaw Mountain in northern Georgia, he himself was seriously wounded (Appelbaum iii). Bierce recovered, though, and he went on to write many stories dealing with the Civil War. The battles he participated in and the things he saw in those battles gave him inspiration for his stories (Hall 87).
Ambrose Bierce used his experiences in the Civil War to understand and to convey to other people through his writing that war is not glorious–it is horrible. Even though Bierce wrote more supernatural stories, he is better known for his Civil War short stories (Hall 87). Of a total of ninety-three short stories, fifty-three were supernatural (Gullette). Bierce was able to write convincing stories with less than one thousand words (Gullette). Many of his writings are less than three thousand words (Gullette). Some of his short stories had a Civil War and a supernatural aspect to them. ?Chickamauga? is an example of one of these stories. Sharan K. Hall described Ambrose Bierce?s stories as having ?an attraction for death in its more bizarre forms, featuring depictions of mental deterioration, uncanny manifestations, and expressing the horror of existence in a meaningless universe? (87). Many of Bierce?s stories shock the reader, and the stories tell about a nightmarish reality (May 370). James K. Folsom described Ambrose Bierce?s writing like this:
Many people think Ambrose Bierce is obsessed with death; incapable of compassion. A less moralistic and biographical reevaluation of Bierce?s work, however, reveals his intellectual fascination with the effect of the supernatural on the human imagination. (222)
Alan Gullette suggested that maybe the reason Bierce is so dark and talks about such morbid things is because the separation from his wife and the suicide of his eldest son made him bitter. Gullette suggested that maybe this bitterness strengthened the effect of his pen and darkened his satire and morbid fiction to an extent perhaps no other author has achieved. In fact, Bierce earned the nickname of ?Bitter Bierce? (Probst 466).
Even though Bierce wrote short stories that dealt with supernatural themes, he is better known for his military themes (Folsom 225). The reason is that Bierce was once in the United States Army during the Civil War, and he was familiar with the armed forces (Folsom 225). In Bierce?s military stories, the theme is an antiwar one (May 369). His writings center on warfare and the cruel joke it plays on humanity (Probst 466). Ambrose Bierce wants to destroy the view of many people that war is a place to gain glory. Bierce wants to replace this viewpoint with the images of people dying and what war is really like. War is horrible, and it is a place where people die.
Ambrose Bierce uses point of view well (May 370). He shifts views from one person to another. Gertrude Franklin Atherton said, ?Bierce?s art of construction is so subtle and his power so dominant that the minds of his readers are his until they lay down the work? (88).
Vincent Starrett explained ?Chickamauga? as being unrivaled and representative of Bierce?s greatest accomplishment in the art of writing (89). He wrote:
?Chickamauga? is a grotesquely shocking account of a deaf mute child who, wandering from home, encounters in the woods a host of wounded soldiers hideously crawling from the battlefield, and thinks they are playing a game. Rebuffed by the jawless man, upon whose back he tries to ride, the child ultimately returns to his home, to find it burned and his mother slain and horribly mutilated by a shell. It probes the very depths of material horror. (89)
?Chickamauga? follows Ambrose Bierce?s typical subject matter. This short story is about the Civil War because the setting centers around Chickamauga in northern Georgia, in 1864, during the Civil War. ?Chickamauga? is also a supernatural story which focuses not so much on external reality as it does on the strange, dreamlike world that lies somewhere between fantasy and reality (May 369-370). Bierce holds the reader suspended between reality and fantasy until the final grotesque realization, which, in hindsight, explains a great deal (May 370-371). The final episode reveals why the boy never spoke and why he did not wake up when the soldiers walked right near him and when the cannons were being fired during the battle at Chickamauga. Twists at the end of Bierce?s stories are common (Gullette).
?Chickamauga? follows Ambrose Bierce?s typical theme. In his military stories, Ambrose Bierce usually has an antiwar theme. James K. Folsom described the theme of the story:
Upon the first reading of the tale leaves one with a slightly false impression of its meaning. The story does not tell us, as it seems to, and as so many fairy tales do, that it is better not to leave home and venture into the wild wood. In the world of ?Chickamauga,? safety is to be found neither at home nor abroad. By wandering away into the woods the boy perhaps escaped the fate of those who remained at home, and yet his symbolic journey has only brought him back to a world where death is everywhere supreme. (225)
The descriptions of the grotesque views that the boy sees show that Bierce is trying to show the horrors of war. He wants to show what the soldiers go through during war. Of Ambrose Bierce?s theme in ?Chickamauga? Charles E. May said:
The antiwar theme of Bierce?s story depends on the basic tensions between the child world and the adult world and between fantasy and reality. The boy?s fantasy world is his reality. When he meets the real reality, he is intrigued. He thinks the men who are dying are in his fantasy world and they become part of his reality. He doesn?t know that the men are dying. Bierce develops the story on the ironic realization that the adult view of war often springs from childlike views in which men glorify battle in a heroic and fantasy image, only to find out too late that the reality of war is horror and death. (369)
?Chickamauga? follows Ambrose Bierce?s typical style. He shifts points of view frequently in his stories. In ?Chickamauga,? Ambrose Bierce uses the perspective of a deaf mute child (May 370). Charles E. May wrote that the story depends on Bierce?s development of the perspective of the child, in which the reader is made to see the maimed and bleeding soldiers as circus clowns and childlike playmates for the boy (370). The child does not understand what is going on, and he pretends the soldiers are there for his amusement and that they are friends with which to play. May wrote that this point of view is balanced by that of an adult narrator, who counterparts the boy?s childish view, sometimes in a developed background exposition, sometimes in a straight declarative statement (370). For example, when the boy seems to see some strange animals that he does not recognize crawling through the forest, the narrator simply says, ?They were men? (May 370). Another example is when the boy sees men lying in the water as if without heads, the narrator simply says, ?They were drowned? (May 370). The adult narrator is not named in the story, but is presented as a disembodied presence who not only sees what the boy sees but also sees the boy and draws conclusions about the boy?s responses (May 370). This technique allows the reader to see the boy?s and the adult narrator?s point of view (May 370). The narrator in the story is the voice of truth. He really sees what is going on, and he helps the reader understand what the boy is seeing. Without the adult narrator, the reader would get confused about what the boy is really seeing. The boy is innocent in his playful point of view, but at the same time the playful point of view is what is responsible for the death of the individuals who surround the child (May 370).
?Chickamauga? deals with Ambrose Bierce?s typical subject matter. It also contains Ambrose Bierce?s usual theme and style. ?Chickamauga? represents all of these characteristics. ?Chickamauga? is about the Civil War, and it also has a supernatural side to it. The story takes place at a Civil War battle, and there is a deaf boy who is wandering around seeing grotesque figures of humans. The theme of ?Chickamauga? is an antiwar theme. Ambrose Bierce also uses shifting of views. He changes from the adult to the boy and back and forth. In his use of these different story elements of subject matter, theme, and style, Ambrose Bierce has developed his own unique way of writing.
Appelbaum, Stanley, Ed. Civil War Stories. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1994.
Atherton, Gertrude Franklin. ?The Literary Development of California.? Twentieth Century
Literary Criticism. Ed. Sharon K. Hall. Detroit: Gale Research Comp., 1982.
Folsom, James K. ?Ambrose Bierce.? Critical Survey of Short Fiction. Ed. Frank N. Magill.
Rev. Ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press, 1993.
Gullette, Alan. Ambrose Bierce. 13 December 1999.
Hall, Sharon K., Ed. ?Ambrose Bierce.? Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Detroit: Gale
Research Comp., 1982.
May, Charles E. ?Chickamauga.? Masterpoints II: Short Story Series. Ed. Frank N. Magill.
Pasadena, CA: Salem Press, 1986.
Probst, Robert, Ed. ?Ambrose Bierce.? Elements of Literature. Fifth Course: Literature of the
United States. Atlanta: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1997. 466.
Starrett, Vincent. ?Ambrose Bierce.? Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Sharon K. Hall.
Detroit: Gale Research Comp., 1982.
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