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Satirical Devaluation of Courage in Ambrose Bierces Stories

It is difficult to follow chivalric ideals of courage and masculinity when people are constantly dying and chances are that the mighty knight will be killed too. Many men from wealthy families were brought up on romantic novels and considered themselves to be courageous as lions. Though, the prose of war turned out to be not that clean and divine, as it was written in the books. This controversy of reality and expectations led to numerous tragic situations, which took place during the war. Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce was an American journalist and writer of short stories, whose works are characterized by satirical viewpoint of the human nature. The short stories A Horseman in the Sky, A Tough Tussle and One of the Missing describe the eventsduring theAmerican Civil War of 1861- 1065. Theyfeature the idea of devaluation of courage during the war period, showing the events in the grotesque and satirical manner.

A Tough Tussle is a short story about a young officer Brainerd Byring, who was on guard in the forest at night. He was considered to be a brave man, but he had one weakness, he might never reveal to the others. A lieutenant was scared of dead people, since he found their looks absolutely unaesthetic. When Byring saw a corpse near his guard-post, he went mad. The author depicts how the man tried to persuade himself that his fears are irrational, but the officer was not able to cope with his emotions. In the end, the captain and the surgeon found lieutenant Byring with a sword in his heart. The corpse was five times stabbed and the revolver was undischarged. The brave officer had a really tough tussle with an already dead man.

The story has a linear structure, and the events are succeeding each other. It starts with an introduction that describes the personality of the lieutenant. The main part and the culmination of the story are about the mysterious frightening atmosphere in the forest. Bierce uses suspense to emphasize the horror of the situation. The satirical effect in the ending is created by the two brief phrases, when the captain and the surgeon looked at each other and understood everything without words. This silent consent subverts the previously described bravery of Byring.

The story is told from the position of an omnipresent narrator, who knows everything about the protagonist. It is evident that the narrators point of view is quite sardonic. He understands the real nature of courage and ironically laughs at his contemporaries, who have a perverse image of war. The main character is an ironical image of a civilized person, who does not understand that a war is a horrible homicide, and still tries to find romance in it. He is not a specialist ( He had enlisted in the very first days of the war as a private, with no military knowledge whatever, had been made first-sergeant of his company on account of his education and engaging manner) (NO.3), but considers himself to be a genius of military strategy (In his small way the author of these dispositions was something of a strategist; if Napoleon had planned as intelligently at Waterloo he would have won that memorable battle and been overthrown later) (NO.2).

Bierce uses dark imagery to create suspense, describing the setting like a horrible forest, where unknown predators are waiting for their victims. The language of the narrator also aims at creating a satirical effect. Bierce uses hyperbolic comparisons (for example, when the lieutenant is compared to Napoleon) and numerous metaphors that belong to the high style. It creates a pompous picture of the events and makes the readers understand the original tone of the narration. All these compositional elements help the author to show how the courage is leveled.

The short story A Horseman in the Sky consists of four parts and also has a linear structure. Though, the events are shown from two different perspectives. A young brave soldier Carter Druse is sleeping on the guard-post and suddenly wakes up. He sees a horseman on the cliff and thinks that he might be a spy. Druse is not able to kill a human, though after some hesitation he decides that it is his duty of a soldier. A killed man turns out to be Druses father.

The modality of the narration is ironical, though the protagonist arouses compassion. Bierce describes him as the son of wealthy parents, an only child, and had known such ease and cultivation and high living as wealth and taste (NO. 5). In fact, the protagonist is not an evil person or a coward; he is just a young romantic man who read too much about the dignity and duty. He knew nothing about the reality and thinks that a real warrior needs to step over his natural fear of killing another human. It is difficult to blame Druse for these ideas about courage, because they are imposed by the society and media. In the end, this perverted perception of courage led to a personal tragedy.

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The author uses high language in descriptions of the setting and actions. Exaggerations, purely literate metaphors and rhetoric questions with inversion create the atmosphere of a romantic novel about courageous warriors of the past. It is a hint on the literature the protagonist read when he was growing up and what sources influenced his world view. For example, Bierce describes a ghost on the cliff in the following way:

On a colossal pedestal, the cliff,motionless at the extreme edge of the capping rock and sharply outlined against the sky,was an equestrian statue of impressive dignity. The figure of the man sat the figure of the horse, straight and soldierly, but with the repose of a Grecian god carved in the marble which limits the suggestion of activity. (NO. 8)

Druse kills his father in the end of the story, who turned out to be that mysterious horseman. The language changes after that event. It becomes simpler; in fact, there are no long metaphors and inversions. It seems like the real tragedy led to understanding that the courage from fiction is nothing, but evil in real life.

The last story that features the concept of devaluation of courage is One of the Missing. The main character is a private soldier Jerome Searing, who is a kind of a spy. One day, he tries to kill several enemies during intelligence, but was covered with the fragments of the wall. The soldier was not able to move and the barrel of his gun was touching his forehead. The man goes crazy, because of the proximity of inevitable death, because the gun will shoot if the soldier moves. Searing is suffering from this feeling and understands that he does not want to die. Though, when he killed his enemies, he thought it was his duty and he was a courageous man. In the end, an officer finds his body, but does not feel anything about the death of another person. He checks the time, because he does not want to be late. The message of the story is that assassination is not a virtue and courage; however, it is an atrocious thing that should not be described in books.

The author pays much attention to describing the feelings of the protagonist through the setting. The sounds and colors arise the soldiers childhood memories and it was his real life without false military ideals. The metaphors are very ironical in the descriptions of soldiers duty of killing other people. The authors point of view is evident. For example, searing was trying to plant his shot with the best hope of making a widow or an orphan or a childless mother,perhaps all three, for Private Searing, although he had repeatedly refused promotion (NO.11).

Bierce uses an interesting way of text organization in the story. In the beginning, other soldiers watch the protagonist goes away, and they are quite skeptical about his chances to return back. One of those soldiers notes that he wishes to have Searings rifle, because those fellows will hurt some of us with it (NO.3). This prediction makes the story cyclic. In the end, the protagonist really shoots himself with his gun. The author actualizes the idea that every detail in the text must work on the content and message.

The name of the story, One of the Missing, underlines the idea that Jerome Searing was not the only case when the soldier did not come back to his companions. Searing was one of thousands of private soldiers who lost their lives, serving false ideals of courage.

All three stories by Ambrose Bierce A Horseman in the Sky, A Tough Tussle and One of the Missing show how the concept of courage is perverted in the minds of civilized men and to what tragedies it can lead. The author satirically describes how bravery is practically realized on war: one man kills his father, another two go crazy and kill themselves. These examples show the subversion of courage during the truly unnatural reciprocal assassination. Bierce was certainly a pacifist, who claimed for peaceful regulations of conflicts.

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