Ambrose Bierce's Chickamauga Essay example

Ambrose Bierce's Chickamauga Essay example

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Ambrose Bierce's Chickamauga


Ambrose Bierce’s short story, "Chickamauga," scrutinizes American values, specifically, America’s identifying with the natural world. Bierce is critical of the American association with divine destiny, which has manifested itself throughout history in the form of John Winthrop’s “City upon a hill” speech, the notion of the “white man’s burden,” and Manifest Destiny. American history, in the scope of the short story, is one of perceived “rightly” subjugation of others. Bierce satirizes this philosophy by use of the child as a manifestation of American values that are eventually shown to be feeble and weak.

The opening paragraph summarizes American history in abstract terms: “It was happy in a new sense of freedom from control, happy in the opportunity of exploration and adventure; for this child’s spirit, in bodies of its ancestors, had for thousands of years been trained to memorable feats of discovery and conquest” (455). The diction Bierce uses conveys a sense of warmongering and that war and conquest is what brings about “memorable feats.” The ever expanding frontier, the cross-continental explorations, and the colonizing of the West, though, are all described by Bierce in terms of a mirthful child going to play in the woods unabated and “unobserved” (Ibid). Bierce undermines the notion that American conquests in the past were grand exploits of a privileged and godly people.

Bierce also uses hyperbole in describing the child’s playing in the woods. Though the child is merely playing war in his mind, Bierce describes him as “a mightier conqueror” and “the mightiest” (Ibid). This diction of grandeur is juxtaposed with the rabbit scaring the child away: “With a startled cry the child...


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...nquest do not give triumph to one nation and defeat for another, but instead bring about defeat for all.

Thus, Bierce satirizes American culture and the popular beliefs of destiny and natural superiority associated with his time. American history is shown to be nothing more than a deaf and mute child roaming in the wilderness playing war games. The arrogant notion of superiority is described as feeble and ultimately destructive. Bierce calls upon Americans to view themselves with a kind of humility toward the natural world and its it place inside of it; no longer should Americans see themselves as privileged, instead, they should become humbled.


Works Cited

Bierce, Ambrose. "Chickamauga." The Heath Anthology of American Literature Volume C Late Nineteenth Century 1865-1910. Ed. Suzanne P. Weir. Boston, New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 2006. 455-459.

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