William Dean Howells: Short Stories

"Editha": William Dean Howells’ Reflection of America College

William Dean Howells’ short story “Editha,” published in 1905, revolves around ideals about war and the romanticized vision of it. Through each character, Howells presents a contrasting view of war. Editha, and her view of God-intended glorious war, is able to push her fiancé George into joining the battle. When he dies shortly after leaving, his mother makes her views on the topic very clear. Each character represents not only a view, but also a portion of America; Editha being the idealistic majority, George being the realistic but easily persuaded minority, and George’s mother being the realistic and morally strong one percent.

The main character of the story, Editha, holds war at a romanticized standard that presents her as a representation of America’s idealistic and morally weak majority. When the story begins, Editha is talking to her fiancé George about the war that has just begun. Although George seems quite against the war and his views on it, Editha is firm on hers, and hers is that he must go to battle. Howells makes her persistent views very clear, “…she was aware that now at the very beginning she must put a guard upon herself against urging him, by any word or act, to take the part that her whole soul willed him...

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