american lit II study guide

american lit II study guide - American Contexts 4-22 Much...

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American Contexts 4-22 Much of the most significant American literature produced in the 1865-1929 period was engaged with the great social issues of the day. Some of this writing was looked to by common readers as their primary source of knowledge and wisdom about the world, so much so that it is tempting to call the era the Age of the Writer. Writers were respected as people who could convey incisive understanding and truth and wisdom about the world; novels, stories, poems, and plays were respected as “mirrors” of the actual. (Ethnography, movies: Birth of a Nation, journalism, etc..) Education was lacking at the time, reading was wisdom. Wars and Depression brought over immigrants. Wars had great impact Chickamauga-Bierece “Chickamauga” became the most famous combat story of Tales of Soldiers and Civilians. Bierce knew the Battle of Chickamauga intimately, having been in it and having observed important elements of it as a Union battlefield map-maker, and in later years he was to write about it on four other occasions. “Chickamauga” was published for the first time in the San Francisco Examiner on January 20, 1889, as the preparations for the September commemoration of the battle were underway. It was narrated for the most part from the point of view of a child who, we are told at the outset, carries within him the human race’s desire for conquest and who had learned about battlefield postures of “aggression and defense” from picture books. Wandering from his home, the child witnessed a battle; watched as wounded men crawled through the forest; tried to ride a crawling soldier who threw him off and revealed that he was missing his lower jaw and “from the upper teeth to the throat was a great red gap fringed with hanging shreds of flesh and splinters of bone”; slept through another battle; led a parade of dying soldiers; and “danced with glee” when he got back to his own home and saw that everything was on fire. Then he noticed a dead woman, apparently his mother, her “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.” As if this did not go far enough, Bierce added a flourish saying that “The greater part of her forehead was torn away and from the jagged hole the brain protruded, overflowing the temple, a frothy mass of gray, crowned with clusters of crimson bubbles – the work of a shell.” Complete with the mockery of seemingly innocent “frothy” gray matter and “crimson bubbles,” the passage, like the story itself, seemed calculated to end any idea of celebrating war and to make impossible the idea of romantic, sweet combat death. One wonders what the aging warriors who gathered at Chickamauga a few months after its publication would have thought about it. Would the former combatants have continued to engage in “pleasant, friendly converse,” as General Rosencrans was said to have observed on that occasion?
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