William Dean Howells’s short story “Editha” expresses the grim realities of war amid the false but persistent attitude of some people to romanticize it in the name of an abstract but powerful concept called “patriotism”. The title character of the story is an idealistic young woman who pushes her man to enlist. Editha believes that fighting in the war would make George a hero and it would be her pride to be the wife of a man who fought for his country.
She considers war as a glorious thing that would liberate the oppressed—and her country, the great liberator. George, on the other hand, represents the other half of humanity: those who believe that war means breaking the peace of the world. Editha is confronted with the truth when George dies in the war and she faces George’s mother.
Mrs. Greason tries to make Editha see behind her idealistic notions by lecturing the young woman about how, pared down to its most basic definition, was is simply about young men killing each other; sons killing the sons of other mothers, and not fully comprehending the reasons for their violence, too, because they are only sent by their respective countries. Through the older woman, Howells makes the reader see through the romantic notions and pro-war sentiments of many people like Editha.
She exposes the immaturity, naivete, stupidity, and blindness of believing in war for the sake of patriotism. However, when George’s mother tries to make the young woman realize the inhumanity of war, the latter convinces herself that Mrs. Greason “wasn’t quite in her right mind. ” Like Editha, people who believe in the validity of wars, especially those who do not fight in it but only cheer from the safety of their living rooms, refuse to listen to the truth and prefers to cling to their romantic ideals.
William Dean Howells. Editha.