The glory of war as a widespread conflict leaves behind a path of sorrow among those who lost their loved ones in battle. Chestnutt and Howells both pacifists portrayed the controversial effects of war by raising human experiences to portray its psychological outcome on human nature for society to dwell on this changeable social practice. The anti-imperialistic tone in “Editha” romanticizes the idealism that supported the Spanish-American War while The Passing of Grandison served to retell the onset of Civil War and American sentiments of the period towards slavery.
In both books, the main character Dick Owens and George Gearson are two men, trained and educated lawyers who sought the love and affection of their love interest. Happening within the period where wars existed, both characters encounter a fair amount of maneuvering from the people they loved. Dick Owens was a lawyer who belonged to a wealthy family and could actually do away with doing nothing. As a lawyer, Owens was sympathetic and supportive to the anti-slavery cause. Knowing Owen’s interest in her, Lomax a Southern woman had bullied Dick into pleasing her by studying law under Judge Fenderson’s office. When Owens attended a trial of a slave-stealer, he had gone to Charity and old her that “his principles were against a prisoner, but his sympathies were on his side”. Lomax was able to tap Owens after telling him, “ I’ll never love you, Dick Owens, until you have done something. When the time comes, I’ll think about it.” Simple words but deep in meaning allowed Dick to concede to Lomax’s test to prove and win her heart by promising to “run off one of the old man’s slave, as it may not be quite as difficult but just as unlawful and will demonstrate what he was capable of”.
Charity Lomax’s ploy to get Dick to agree with her was slowly building up when she said “Ive always hated old Sam Briggs ever since the time he broke a Negro’s leg with a piece of cordwood. When I hear of a cruel deed it makes the Quaker blood that came from my grandmother assert itself. Personally, I wish that all Sam Brigg’s Negroes would run away and as for the young man (who was imprisoned), I regard him as a hero…I could love a man who take such chances for others.” Such sentiment opened up a probability for Owens who was dying for the attention of Charlotte’s love. Falling for her whims and caprices through political ideals, Dick was hoisted upon a challenge and responsibility he was not readily prepared for in the first place.
In “Editha”, George Gearson shared a mutual relationship with his love interest, Editha. George had seen the Spanish American war as an obstruction that “broke the peace of the world”. For George, “war is peculiarly wanton and needless; but every war is stupid; it makes me sick…why shouldn’t this thing have been settled reasonably?” George’s father lost an arm in the Civil War and came home with grave misgivings. Yet through Editha’s insistence brought upon by idealism she was able to forced upon George to “support the war and fight for their country.” “And I call any war glorious that is for the liberation of people who have been struggling for years against the cruelest oppression.” Playing on George’s love for her, Editha was able to insist upon George her own ideals to do something out of the ordinary in order to please her.
As if it were not enough, Editha arrange to return all memoirs of their relationship after writing,”George, I understood when you left me. But I think we had better emphasize ypur meaning that if we cannot be one in everything we had better be one in nothing. So I am sending these gifts for your keeping till you have made up your mind…I shall always love you, and therefore I shall never marry any one else. But the man I shall marry must love his country first of all, and be able to say to me, there is no honor above America with me…” Such a show of patriotism reveals Editha’s ignorance on the perils of war that she has selfishly hoisted upon George to satisfy an inner craving. In Editha’ George’s fate was sealed when he agreed to enlist in order to make Editha proud of him. In the bloody fields of war, Editha also saw the end to their relationship.
Eventually, both lawyers in separate decades and in different wars that Americans fought enlisted their services to their country to fight a war against their full principles. Their consent was served in order to fulfill the dreams and idealism of the women they love. In a satirical fashion, The Passing of Grandison uses satire incorporated with humor to get its idea across as heavily discussed through blacks and white during the abolition of slavery stance. Charity Lomax’s prodding was the main catalyst for Owens’ hatched plan to lead his father’s slave, Grandison astray. Every night the young master Dick “hoped that he would have to wait upon himself and every morning he looked forward with pleasure to the prospect of making his toilet unaided” after leaving Grandison alone. Finally, Dick moved to Boston and sent Grandison alone on errands, even to the point of tempting him with money and freedom. Finally he lost Grandison and married Charity Lomax.
Authors Chestnutt and Howells feel in their separate stories how passion strengthens a man’s resolve to participate in a battle against his own principles. The symbolic prodding of the female characters resolves to show how idealism ignores reason. It is also ironically observable that the use of female characters conjures the image of feminine manipulations which both authors probably believed how men are easily beguiled by feminine wiles. For a moment, both authors have stereotyped the characterization of the female personalities during the period to paint them as narrow and childish whose moralistic element created the simple plot.
Portraying the twist in Grandison’s comeback and running away three weeks later with an entire family of slaves also portrayed in disgust the white attitude towards the blacks who were cast us ingrates by the Colonel, “About three weeks after Grandison’s return the colonel’s faith in sable humanity was rudely shaken, and its foundations almost broken up.” This also goes to show how the white men during the period have mixed feelings- the older ones were against abolitions of slavery while the younger ones sympathetic to its emancipation.
Howell’s Editha, in a moralistic tone condemns conflict and wars that is narrated and portrayed in idealism that refused to hear reason even in the face of truth. In the final words of Editha, “The mystery that had bewildered her was solved” reflects that with wars nothing is precisely solved as idealism still lives and exists in Editha.
For both authors, it is clear that strong idealism is not worthy for people need to see reason and fact to practically explaining things free from bias. In a moralistic storyline, Howells strongly opposed wars and the machinations attached to it by simply relating it to wiles and caprices of selfish minds who wage conflict for their own reason. Chestnutt, as a Black American pacifist uses colorful personifications of humanity in a backdrop of cultural setting reminiscent on a period of realism to create a grim picture of conflict set in satiric literature.
Reminiscent of a political picture fraught with wars and conflicts, it is noteworthy to say that patriotism and idealism exists in everyone. Using such as a reason to garner and achieve selfish ambitions without regard for reason is thoughtless and thus deprives man of his right to self preservation.
Chesnutt, Charles W. The Passing of Grandison, 1899. Stories, Novels, and Essays. New York: Library of America, 2002: 188-206.
Howells, William D. Editha. Handouts.