Wendell Berry, an American author and farmer, was a devoted countryman as well as a person of place. Being the first son in a huge family, Berry realized that the attention and respect to the land you live in is important. He realized that love to land and native home is integral for many people, and he truly believed that his devotion to his roots could make him more humane. Wendell was greatly inspired by the land where he lived in and decided to stick to the old farming methods of using horses to plough instead of modern tractors.
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At age thirty, he acquired a farm in his indigenous Henry County where he became a full time farmer and improved his teaching and writing (Kramer, A Farmer’s Gift, para. 1). In his works, Berry makes a wonderful attempt to compare a soldier’s attitude before and after war, analyze what aspects of war are able to change a soldier’s mind and principles, and explain why war has to be accepted as the merciless disperser only that negatively influence the current state of affairs.
According to Wendell Berry, war plays a crucial role in the life of everybody involved. If a soldier leaves home for war, he has to consider whether or not he will survive, and how he will be welcomed upon his return. War has a significant characteristic to influence everything around and inside a person: his mind, his home, his relationships, and his existence.
Berry has written approximately twenty-five poetry books, sixteen essays, and eleven novels along with a collection of short narratives. Berry devoted about fifty-five years of his life to the improvement of his publishing career, and as a result, he has become quite admired in the American publishing sphere.
One of Berry’s more popular literary works is a short story called “Making It Home”, which is from a book called “Fidelity: Five Stories”. This particular story expresses many of the War related problems a soldier is faced with upon returning home. The essay that follows will clearly attempt to demonstrate how war and home are two things that cannot be separated from a soldier’s mind.
Berry clearly explains himself by stating, “War is the great scatterer, the merciless disperser” (Peters, Wendell Berry: Life and Work, 17). From this, we can conclude that war has the drastic effect of devastating the homes that were left behind by the soldiers just as much as it has agonizing and devastating effects in the battlefield.
Berry introduces the main causality of war as the death of a country because truth usually perishes during the process of diplomacy; however, the country remains to suffer the devastating consequences of the war long after it has ended. The aftermath of war on both the opposing and the attacking side is usually what brings out this relationship between war and home for the soldier.
Did we win? If we lost, how it is possible to return home? How do we as a nation pick up the pieces? Wendell Berry explores ways in which war and its considerable aftereffects feature the countryside in its quest for transition for the desirable land that is usually found in urbanized areas. War has the drastic effect of devastating the homes that were left behind by the soldiers just as much as it has agonizing and devastating effects in the battlefield.
Soldiers usually have an assignment of going into a battlefield with predestined effects in their lives. Within a short period of time, soldier’s thoughts demonstrate how dramatic the changes can be and make him believe that “I am not a stranger, but I am changed. Now I know a mighty power” (Berry, Making It Home, 97). A person is changed, and it is useless to think over possible reasons for such changes as it can be summed up with war only.
War may change human life or even take it away, but Berry suggests considering the details of what may happen when a person comes back home after war, when almost all living principles are changed, and when the desire to continue living under after-war conditions disappears. After all the fighting and war is done, where does the soldier expect to go back?
Moreover, this coming back is only applicable in the case of a draftee who has been lucky enough to survive these deracinating forces. In retrospect, what does this soldier hope to return to? Do they hope to return to a land that has been stripped bare by the great exodus that occurred during the war by the migration of people shifting to the opportunities that the war presented in the industrial cities?
It is known that “war devastates the home front as surely as it does the killing fields” (Peters, Wendell Berry: Life and Work, 17). So then, in a soldier’s mind the following question surfaces: whether there is any purpose at all in re-uniting with people at home? Will they even be there and will it be the same as it was?
The devastating and undesirable consequences of war and the impossibility to forecast what happens after the war and to be sure about personal understanding of the events is one more peculiar feature of war outcomes. World War II made many people chose to be urban dwellers instead of living in the countryside that had once had the potential of being lucrative.
Many dwellers instead eclipsed the lush countryside that had once had the potential of being lucrative. Berry feels that “War… in the outer darkness beyond the reach of love, where people do not know one another kill one another and there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, where nothing is allowed to be real enough to be spread” (Peters, Wendell Berry: Life and Work, 19).
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This proved to be a constant issue Berry wrote about in his fictitious work. The Second World War was a representation of destruction, mechanization, and depopulation. Thus, many lost their loved ones in the war (Wendell, A Citizen’s Response to the National Security Strategy of the United States of America, 436). This therefore exemplifies the anxiety in a soldier’s mind about the fear of coming back to drastic changes, which seem to have no place for him/ her anymore.
The cultural aspect of war makes it possible to nationalize a nation and develop another force that can retain or even change considerably the features which cannot belong to the existed requirements. The traditional neutrality of the American culture would be abandoned in the course of the two world wars.
The school was approached as a repository for collective memories as a bodily expression of community culture (Peters, Wendell Berry: Life and Work, 22). Again, the effects of war become a reason to unify a nation’s interests and purpose giving a soldier a sense of purpose. On the flipside though, this creates an uncomfortable and unsettling feeling of obsoleteness upon the return home. A home is the place that remains to be a common ground where a good life can be achieved even after a war.
In Making It Home, Berry demonstrates one of the happiest moments in the life of every soldier, the moment when he “has his place to which he can return” (Peters, Wendell Berry: Life and Work, 22). Art qualifies to be one of the lucky soldiers who survive the war. He has a place to which he can return – a utopia or reality.
After three years of operating as an expendable cog, Art finally makes it and is able to come back home. Art travels by way of bus towards home. On his way home, he cannot even realize that now he is one of those who know nothing about his surroundings. Before he reaches his place, he is only separated by several creeks that he once knew by name:
“It pleased Art to think that the government owed him nothing, and that he needed nothing from it, and he was on his own. Nonetheless, the government thought it owed him tribute. It wanted to praise him and the rest for their acts that it considered heroic as well as glorious. This is because the war was ending and their victory was glorious.” (Berry, Making It Home, 87)
With the help of this quote, Berry tries to explain how the government accepts the idea of victory and compares it to the thoughts and attitudes of the soldier. Though government is an evident participant in the war, its representatives never fight the battle on the front lines. They may support soldiers and promise them many things; however, when the war is over, a soldier returns home. He is going home, and nothing can distract him except the idea of what is waiting for him.
It is difficult to imagine how mane problems may bother a person when war is over, and Berry makes an attempt to define the most burning aspects; one of them is capital punishment with its possibility to infringe upon moral justice and disappear during times of war. He describes this so perfectly in Berry’s poem “The Morning’s News.”
In this work, Berry makes one more attempt to evaluate the impact of war and its aftereffects. He tries to compare death by its design and introduces the tragic nature of war using the innocence of the nature and of the child. “I look at my son, whose eyes are like a young god’s,/ they are so open to the world” (Berry, The Morning’s News, 88).
Berry is sickened by the killing that is done to human beings and he explains further “and I am sickened by the complicity in my race” (Berry, The Morning’s News, 87). In addition, he argues the following: “to kill or be killed in hot savagery like a beast is understandable. It is forgivable and curable. But to kill, by design, deliberately, without wrath, that is the sullen labor that perfects Hell.” (Berry, The Morning’s News, 87)
This ideas disturbs him to think how cruel a human being can be and has a connection to the fact that a soldier and, in some cases, a prisoner of war convicted of heinous crimes are sentenced to capital punishment. Berry critically wonders when peace will settle in the world for both him and his family. He ends up finding solace in how wild things conduct their lives:
“When despair for the world grows in me/ and I wake in the night at the least sound/ in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be…/ I come into the peace of wild things…/ I enjoy the light of the stars.” (Berry, The Peace of Wild Things, 85)
Berry feels some kind of freedom when he forgets the constant “war” he has to face with his conscience about the difficulties that are found in life.
Christians were certainly confused about the writings in the scripture, and Wendell Berry brought understanding of the scripture and a definite guidance that sought to show environmental ethics that were brought out in the scriptures.
Berry’s works “have revealed significant shifts in his religious thought and important intensifications of his commitment to religious foundations for an ethical life, his fiction invariably remains firmly secular with none of his main characters espousing strong religious beliefs” (Murphy, The Unforeseen Self in the Works of Wendell Berry para.1).
The works of poetry that he has written best demonstrate what it actually means to inhabit a holy community where creation is forever taking place. His opinion about Christian ecology can be best obtained by interpretations of his poetry.
The motivation that drives Wendell to write this poetry is to bring about emancipation to Christians from “failures and errors of Christian practice”. His purpose is to bring Christians to view divinity as something that exists in all features of the earthly population. People need to have something to believe in, and Berry finds Christianity as a powerful means to rely on. In an essay written by Berry, he brings out what the nature poems bring out.
“It seeks to give us a sense of our proper place in the scheme of things…. Man, it keeps reminding us, is the center of the universe only in the sense that wherever he is, it seems to him that he is at the center of his own horizon; the truth is that he is only a part of a vast complex of life, on the totality and order of which he is blindly dependent.
Since that totality and order have never yet come within the rational competence of our race … the natural effect of such poetry is the religious one of humility and awe.” (McKibben, Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life: A Reader’s Guide para. 12)
This attitude helps to explain why a soldier continues to serve their country zealously and protect his home wishing for the day when such senseless conflicts can resolved without resorting to such drastic measures.
Wendell Berry clearly explains how war and home are directly linked in a soldier’s mind. His desire to evaluate the details of the event makes him more interesting and more intriguing. He makes a good attempt to focus on war times and the outcomes which are inalienable for people.
According to him, war is a devastating event that ought to be avoided altogether. There are numerous reasons why wars begin, but the consequences it brings are far worse compared to the reasons why the war was fought in the first place. We must avoid these situations altogether. Such people like Berry show some possible ways to advocate peace in order to solve things and take measures to prevent the occurrence of wars.
Berry, Wendell. “The Hurt Man.” Hudson Review 56.3 (2003): 431-438. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web.
Berry, Wendell. “A Citizen’s Response to the National Security Strategy of the United States of America.” Orion. 2003. Web.
Berry, Wendell. “Making It Home.” Fidelity Five Stories. New York and San Francisco: Pantheon Books, 1992: 83-105.
Berry, Wendell. “The Morning’s News.” In David Impastato Upholding Mystery: An Anthology of Contemporary Christian Poetry. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.
Berry, Wendell. The Peace of Wild Things. 2010. Web.
Brockman, Holly. Personal Interview. January/February 2006. Berry, Wendell. Interview. How Can a Family ‘Live at the Center of its own Attention?. The Southerner.
Fearnside, Jefferson. Personal interview. Jul 2008. Berry, Wendell. Interview. Digging In. The Sun.
Kramer, Kyle T. “A Farmer’s Gift.” America 200.13 (2009): 17-19. Web.
McKibben, Bill. “Wendell Berry and the Cultivation of Life: A Reader’s Guide.” Christianity Toda 53.3 (2009): 63. Web.
Murphy, Patrick D. “The Unforeseen Self in the Works of Wendell Berry.” Christianity and Literature 52.4 (2003): 580. Web.
Peters, Jason. Wendell Berry: Life and Work. Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky. 2007.