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“Editha”: William Dean Howells’ Reflection of America

William Dean Howells’ brief story “Editha,” published in 1905, revolves around ideals about war and the romanticized vision of it. Through every character, Howells presents a contrasting view of war. Editha, and her view of God-intended glorious war, is capable to push her fiancé George into joining the battle. When he dies shortly soon after leaving, his mother tends to make her views on the subject extremely clear. Every character represents not only a view, but also a portion of America Editha being the idealistic majority, George becoming the realistic but very easily persuaded minority, and George’s mother becoming the realistic and morally robust a single %.

The primary character of the story, Editha, holds war at a romanticized common that presents her as a representation of America’s idealistic and morally weak majority. When the story starts, Editha is speaking to her fiancé George about the war that has just begun. Though George seems very against the war and his views on it, Editha is firm on hers, and hers is that he have to go to battle. Howells tends to make her persistent views extremely clear, “…she was aware that now at the really beginning she need to place a guard upon herself against urging him, by any word or act, to take the element that her complete soul willed him to take, for the completion of her best of him” (308). Editha does not just want but needs her fiancé to take component in the war because if he does not, then he will never meet her excellent of him. Regardless of her choice to not urge or push George towards any decision, she does anyways by continuing to talk about war and the glory of it. John B. Humma, in a quick story criticism, claims that “The majority virtually usually will do what it wants, regardless”. Like the majority, Editha does what she desires regardless of her fiancé’s own personal views. There are no personal views when it comes to the chauvinistic majority, there is only the idealistic view of a united nation. She pushes her personal to an extreme point that is evident in a letter she writes to him before he tends to make a choice on what to do. In her letter, Editha tells her fiancé that he either enters the war or she will leave him: “There is no honor above America with me. In this fantastic hour there is no other honor” (Howells 311). Her idealistic concept on war is more essential to her than her own relationship, for if her fiancé is not one particular who supports America as tremendously as she appears to, to the point that he is prepared to danger his own life on the battlefield, then she does not want to be with him. Though George is questionable on war, particularly is own participation in one, Editha is full force ahead, indicating that the romanticized thought of glory for her through her husband trumps the moral ground upon which George’s views stand on. This leads to the thought that Editha, like the majority of America, holds a mindless ignorance. For when Editha is pushing her fiancé into war, she is not considering of all the possible outcomes but only of the ones that involve shinning glory. Humma speaks on this specific concept: “Her blind allegiance to a sentimental and chauvinistic ideal reflects the majority view, but Editha and that view are each so mindless…”. The majority’s views are blind, as Humma states, simply because they are seen in an idealistic way that aims itself only at exaggerated patriotism and not the folks or their personal moral beliefs. At the end of the quick story, soon after her fiancé’s death in the war, Editha continues on her life the identical way as ahead of: “…and from that moment she rose from groveling in shame and self-pity, and started to live again in the ideal” (Howells 317). Even following what would be a terrible tragedy for anybody, Editha continues on her life as usual. The majority, like Editha, in the face of a threat to their uniform ideals, simply push previous and continue on in the name of patriotism and blind allegiance to what could possibly be unveiled as a morally unjust trigger.

In contrast, George appears to view war as incorrect and often wonders if war actually is the answer but ends up following along with the majority due to stress and his personal internal conflict, presenting him as a representation of America’s weak minority who often give up their moral views in order to stick to along with the norm. In the starting of the story, George is shown to be questioning war and his involvement in it as his fiancé, Editha, pressures him into joining. George is consistently wondering no matter whether or not war is truly the answer to the country’s problems: “It is not this war alone thought this seems peculiarly wanton and needless but it is every single war – so stupid it makes me sick. Why shouldn’t this point have been settled reasonably?” (Howells 309). George reveals that war seems unreasonable to him. His morals inform him that there are other methods to settle disagreements, a contrast to what seems to be the majority view. George’s morals appear sturdy because he has a sturdy reasoning behind them War is not reasonable due to the fact there are other much more affordable techniques to settle disputes. He represents the minority of America in this way due to the reality that he makes use of reasoning to back up his morals and his views instead of just following a blind idealistic path. However, George’s morals start to break down and appear weak when his views are challenged by Editha, or the majority. Hummas writes, “Through George, Howells dramatizes the fact that America has neither the strength of will nor the moral force to act according to her greatest convictions”. So, although the convictions and moral tips are there, they stand useless against the brute patriotism of the majority. George and the minority stand no likelihood. Even when George joins the war, he is only following the judgment of every person else. Regardless of George’s initial thoughts on war, he goes against his much better will. In his criticism, Hummas explains that even though the moral thoughts are there in the minority, in George, they get pushed down and swallowed: “…the intelligence remains, but the will, the character to act upon truth, has largely dried up”. The morality is present but the actions taken do not prove it. The minority is represented through George due to the fact just like them, action is by no means taken by George to enforce his personal moral beliefs. Each let their views reside within them and comply with the majority’s outward views alternatively.

The realistic and morally sturdy 1 percent of America is represented by way of George’s mother who, possessing currently gone through a distinct war, knows where she stands morally and has the strength and the character to portray it. George’s mother does not come into the story till following George’s death when Editha decides to visit her. From the moment Editha steps foot into the mother’s house, the mother tends to make her views clear. It appears as although she blames Editha for her son’s death. That Editha’s robust, but morally weak, views pushed her son straight forward into his personal death. George’s mother argues Editha’s judgment and ideals: “I suppose you would have been glad to die, such a brave individual as you! I do not believe he was glad to die…. I suppose he created up his mind to go, but I knew what it expense him, by what it expense me when I heard of it…. When you sent him you didn’t expect he would get killed” (Howells 316). George’s mother digs into Editha’s ideals, just as the one percent represented by George’s mother goes against the views the majority holds. George’s mother knows that Editha’s romanticized view of war is the major contributing factor to why her son died, because without having her influence, George would have by no means went to war. The weak minority would never have been influenced by the majority. Hummas compares George’s mother to the exact opposite of what Editha represents: “George’s mother…is crippled. As soon as vigorous, she is now confined either to bed or to a chair, however regardless of her infirmity, she shows a great and positive moral strength”. Editha, representing the majority, is physically vigorous. Even so, her ideals and morality are weak. George’s mother knows that Editha believed her fiancé would come back from the war and bring her glory and pride, and she also knows that that concept is idealistic: “They think they’ll come marching back, somehow, just as gay as they went, or if it’s an empty sleeve, or even an empty pantaloon, it’s all the far more glory, and they’re so much prouder of them, poor factors!”(Howells 316). The majority view, as Editha sees it, is that war is romantic and proud and patriotic. The one particular percent’s view, as George’s mother knows it, is that war is death and brutal and horrible. George’s mother continues to drag Editha’s beliefs on war claiming, “I thank my God he didn’t live to do it! I thank my God they killed him first, and that he ain’t livin’ with their blood on his hands!” (Howells 316). The separation among gods, in which George’s mother thanks her God, makes the dividing line between the distinct positions in America even a lot more prominent. Not only are the views on every single side different, but the morals are and the gods are. George’s mother is implying that her God is not the identical God that Editha lives below, and that the morals that she receives or learns from her God can not ever be connected to Editha’s God. George’s mother represents the a single percent of America that stands on powerful moral ground with a strong will to back up their beliefs by not becoming afraid to tear down Editha’s, or the majority’s, views.

William Dean Howells’ quick story “Editha” may possibly have all the makings of a romantic war tale in spite of a deep underlying connection between the characters and the portions of America. Editha, who represents the majority, finds war romantic and glorious. She pushes her fiancé into battle due to the fact she, like the majority, is blindly aligned with patriotism and idealism and holds no person moral beliefs. George, who represents the minority, holds a moral belief against war but ends up following the majority due to a weak moral ground. Like the minority, he is very easily persuaded to the ideals of the majority that appear to triumph more than his personal inner feelings. George’s mother, who represents the tiny a single %, views war as entirely immoral, and stands her ground on her views. Like the small percentage she is not afraid to act upon what she believes is right or tear down other views that lack a strong moral foundation. Every of these characters in Howells’ “Editha” holds a larger importance than just their location in the plot line, creating this story deeper than just a tale of glorious war, a fiancé’s death, and a mother’s grief.

Function Cited

Howells, William Dean. “Editha.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. 8th ed. Ed. Nina Baym. New York: W. W. Norton & Organization, Inc., 2013. 307-317. Print.

Humma, John B. “Howells’s ‘Editha’: An American Allegory.” The Markham Assessment 8 (Summer time 1979): 77-80. Rpt. in Quick Story Criticism. Ed. Anna Sheets-Nesbitt. Vol. 36. Detroit: Gale, 2000. Literature Resource Center. Net. 15 Mar. 2016.
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