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What is the Theme of "Editha"?
William Dean Howells’ short story “Editha,” has a very strong theme of war. Howells shows his opposition to war through the female character Editha. She is a thoughtless young woman who spouts out phrases and information from the yellow journalism of the day, without ever taking into the consideration the realities of war.
Editha is Naive
This story poses the question "Is there is ever a justifiable war?"
The central character, Editha, is the epitome of naivety. She believes in a romantic version of war and conveniently ignores the reality that death is the main business of war. An even more frightening realization is that war heroes are far and few between.
Her love of the romanticism of war ends up forcing her poor fiancé to join the war. Here he faced an early death because of it.
Going to War for Love
The romanticism that Editha fosters is the type of thought process that causes well-intentioned actions to cause harm to countless individuals. She believes that there is a necessity to war, and that war is “glorious,” “sacred,” and “holy.”
Due to her insistence of the magnificent qualities of war, and her argument that it is necessary for humanity, she compels her fiancé, George, to join the fight in the Spanish-American War. Even though George was raised as a pacifist, and still holds these beliefs, he joins the war in an attempt to earn Editha’s respect and love. George believes that all wars are pointless, mirroring Howell’s personal views, but he ignores these feelings for his fiancé and does as she asks.
During the confusion in town amid the drinking and toasting, he volunteers and is elected as a Captain. In the end he is put in charge of the killing of men for the love of a woman.
Howell’s views on war, especially the imperialist Spanish-American War, are made clear through his portrayal of Editha, and by proving everyone who takes war lightly wrong. George dies in one of the first fights of the war, and George’s pacifist mother points out the error of Editha’s ways.
Where to Read Editha
Editha can be found on the Washington State University website.
Enotes has a free online summary of Editha.