Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The sociopolitical messages of “The Children’s Campaign” are expressed in a deliberately understated style. Through straight narrative that chronicles both the military and the personal aspects of the campaign, the author satirizes war.

From the opening line (“Even the children at that time received military training . . . ”), the reader is thrust immediately and forcefully into a hostile environment. There is no gradual introduction to the times or reasons offered for its nature; rather, the lack of alternatives is as arbitrary, as inevitable, as war itself.

War is, as are many highly serious topics, a subject that lends itself effectively to humor. In fact, the more intense, the more horrific, the effects of war are, the more absurd they appear. The story’s imagery lends itself to this idea. The literary implications of spring—those of renewal, rebirth, the celebration of life—are recalled in a paradoxical manner: It is spring when the children’s army first sets out to wield its destructive hand and, later, when the greatest loss of life is incurred.

Another image—that of the youths’ size—becomes especially striking during battle descriptions, where the children are “so small . . . it was possible . . . to spit several of them on the bayonet at once.” At other times, they are swarms of “little fiends,” scurrying “over one and in between one’s legs.”

The story’s most satiric description, indeed, accentuates childhood’s ultimate representation: A female enemy civilian turns a child-lieutenant over her knee and gives him a spanking, declaring that he should be at home with his mother. The boy is consequently sent home to his family and forced to move with them to an obscure area of the country.

Although the language of “The Children’s Campaign” is objective, the story nevertheless succeeds in re-creating individual beliefs and moral convictions concerning the polarities of human nature. The reader ends the narrative sadly recognizing the outlines of the familiar world in the grotesque world of this fable.