Bierce's "Coup de Grace" introduces the reader to three characters: Major Halcrow, Captain Madwell and Sergeant Halcrow, all of whom are struggling with the conflicts that arise within themselves and between each other during war. The death scene in this work sheds light upon a raging hatred two men have for one another and a bond between two soldiers that impacts a crucial decision.
The death scene illustrates a wretched and macabre death, that of which no man should have to be subjected to. Sergeant Halcrow is first found suffering through excruciating pain because of a pig that has eaten at his stomach leaving a "wide, ragged opening in the abdomen
[and], protruding from it
a loop of small intestine." (2) Captain Madwell sees his friend suffering and in an attempt to put him out of his misery, cocks his pistol, places the weapon at the side of Halcrow's head and pulls the trigger. When Madwell fails to hear a gunshot and realizes that there are no more bullets, he resorts to using his sword as his second weapon of choice. "Grasping the hilt with both hands," (3) he drives the sword just over the heart of his dying friend, and once the blade pierces the body and plunges into the earth, Halcrow attempts to withdraw the blade, consequently enlarging the wound.
To begin with, the death of Sergeant Halcrow emphasizes on the hatred between Captain Madwell and Major Halcrow. The introduction of characters comes with a description of a "natural antipathy which circumstances had nourished and strengthened to an active animosity,"(2) concerning the Captain and Major. The hatred they share is so intense that it is enough to wish the other one dead. When Madwell suggests that he is of the "opinion that it would be better if [Major Halcrow] were dead," (3) it addresses a casualness they both have towards the idea of death. The feeling of hate is so strong between the two men that they fail to realize the severity of their words and desires. Their hatred sets...
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