Optimism and Pessimism in Writing During the Civil War Era

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During the Civil War unit, we discussed many different types of authors. Some were cynical and pessimistic, while others were very optimistic, almost to the point of Transcendentalist. Three Civil War era writers that varied from pessimism to optimism included Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain, and Walt Whitman. Ambrose Bierce, also known as “Bitter Bierce,” was a writer in the 1800’s that wrote about war and the tragedy that comes along with it. Being a realist, Bierce wanted to reveal the horrors of war to the world. He mocked other war stories that glorified war, and tried to prove the point that war is terrible. In An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge, Bierce enforces the idea that war should not be considered a great thing that is an honor to participate in, but it should be considered a burden and a sorrowful hardship. In this short story, Peyton Farquhar, a southerner, is getting hanged after trying to force northern soldiers off of a bridge. A main theme of this story is that America, “home of the free and land of the brave,” will never truly be free until the war is over. This story is an example of Bierce’s cynicism because it is shown that war brings only death and destruction. Unlike many fairytale stories where the protagonist escapes near-death, the hopeless Farquhar is executed at the end. Even though this story is more realistic, it’s much more pessimistic than most stories. Before Farquhar died, he was thinking about the “frankly villainous dictum that all is fair in love and war,” in which soldiers accept this glorified statement without even considering the brutality of war. This is a more cynical view of how Americans fighting in the Civil War thought it was an honor to fight and that it was full of glory. Bierce proves that war is bloody and disastrous, rather than a great thing like it used to be viewed as. In another one of Ambrose Bierce’s works, The Devil’s Dictionary, Bierce provides cynical and pessimistic definitions of words rather than their...
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