Written in 1905, Howell’s “Editha” describes the life of a young patriotic girl who attempts to reach a higher social rank in society by making her beloved to fight in a war. Featuring a middle-class protagonist, the author pictures an ordinary person, whose perspectives on life are formed by authoritative forces, political propaganda, and religion. With respect to literary movements, “Editha” is predominantly a Realist short story, incorporating several elements of Naturalism.
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The short story contains a number of characteristics of Realism, such as the representation of real life, a focus on ordinary people, middle-class characters, interacting within themes of society and social classes. Despite having blind faith in her country, Editha is not a heroine. She sees war as a duty and an act of honor for an American, saying, “there are no two sides, anymore. There is nothing now but our country” (Howells 1444). Similarly, Editha’s lover, George, represents a Realist character, as he readily acknowledges his mistakes and understands that the prospective dangers of the war are equivalent to a death warrant. Nevertheless, ashamed to disappoint Editha and lose his sense of pride, George chooses love and self-dignity over passive safety.
Along with the Realist trends, “Editha” manifests several common characteristics of Naturalism, such as Howells’ pessimistic outlook on the war and social dynamics, influencing Editha’s and George’s behavior. From one perspective, George’s decision to go to the war is an honorable action. However, from the other angle, George is driven by natural instincts of pride to prove his manhood to Editha. Editha, in return, is reduced to act upon her basic instincts, failing to detach from the pressure of society when sharing her attitude toward the war. The story’s plot is filled with violence and corruption as extreme manifestations of Naturalism.
In conclusion, Howell’s “Editha” is a valuable piece of Realism, which includes all the essential components of this literary movement, such as the representation of reality, ordinary middle-class characters, and a focus on societal issues. However, in this case, the line between Realism and Naturalism is not sufficiently distinctive, since the story contains a pessimistic outlook and focuses on the basic natural instincts. Therefore, when analyzing the writing, it is critical to be aware of both literary perspectives.
Howells, William Dean. “Editha.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature, 6th ed., edited by Nina Baym, W.W. Norton, 2002, pp. 1441-1453.