Fairytales and the Sounds of War

Chickamagua

Ambrose Bierce’s story, “Chickamauga” furthers the argument from “Edison Realism Test” that sound emitted from the phonograph has the ability induce the same emotion that a live experience has. “Chickamauga” uses the premise that without sound one cannot register the appropriate emotional experience in the first place. This story also questions literature’s ability to portray the real with only print’s pale representation of sound. At the same time, the story uses the boy’s inappropriate emotional response to direct the reader to the appropriate emotional response even though there is a lack of auditory input.

Because the boy is only six years old and cannot hear or speak, he has had very little exposure to the world through education or actual life experience. Just like the average person who reads literature about the glory of war, he misinterprets the “ghastly gravity” of the wounded soldiers as “a merry spectacle” (Chickamauga). But more often literature about the glory of war did not delve into the wounds that soldiers received at any level of depth. Therefore, only someone like Bierce, who had seen the horrors of war first hand, would understand that the events depicted in this type of literature is not a merry spectacle because unlike Edison’s phonograph literature cannot pass the Edison Realism Test.

“Chickamauga” Juxtaposes language glorifying war with graphic depictions of wounded and dying soldiers. As the story goes on, the depiction of death and destruction takes precedence in the story and eventually the deaf child, who was a mighty conqueror, is reduced to a chattering ape or a gobbling turkey (Chickamauga). And like the fate of the boy the reader is taken on an emotional roller-coaster as the story begins like the telling of a fairytale and ends with the boy staring at the dead body of what is presumably his mother and watching his home burn (Chickamauga). This last picture of the death of the innocent town’s folk, of the family of the child leaves the reader with both the understanding of some of the hurdles that literature must leap in order to depict the real and an understanding of the importance of sound in signifying the real.

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