Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Judge Priest and his friends are the elders of the community, having gained their wisdom from a lifetime of experience, including the Civil War. Irvin S. Cobb, perhaps influenced by the beginnings of World War I in Europe, seems to be using them and their recollections to introduce his response to the recurring questions of courage and cowardice. Judge Priest states the relatively common view that courage is not the absence of fear but the conquering of fear. Captain Woodward takes this definition a step further, implying that overcoming fear involves more than simply acting as though one is not afraid. He suggests that merely continuing to act brave does not really constitute courage, especially when one is part of an organized group. He implies that courage may be most clearly demonstrated by the individual who does more than is expected or demanded. Therefore, he obviously believes Miss Em’s solitary defiance requires more courage than the military actions of a brigade of soldiers, even when those soldiers recognize that theirs is a futile sacrifice.

Captain Lawson’s story illustrates these Southerners’ insistence on the necessary links among persistence, courage, and independence, and Cobb may have intended the attitudes of these old men to reflect the sentimentalized attitude toward the Confederacy popularized in local color stories of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. For instance, Riggs knew his fights with Allen would result...

(The entire section is 515 words.)