Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Three interdependent parts make up this story: Jerome Searing’s military mission, his entrapment, and his brother’s military mission. Like so many of Ambrose Bierce’s stories, “One of the Missing” centers on the individual human body and mind in crisis. Juxtaposed to everyday experience, such crises disclose most vividly the fascinating paradoxes inherent in every man’s life. In those few moments trapped beneath the timbers, Searing experiences the convergence of the polarities of his existence. His public and private selves face each other. His rational and irrational beings are at war. His life and his death meet.

The polarity between Searing’s public military role as fearless slayer of men and his private and very human desire to go on living is symbolically dramatized in his plight as he looks directly into his own murder weapon. The callous killer is ironically reduced to the state of a captive, trembling animal. Dual impulses of the human mind toward control and toward anarchy meet. The man so competent, so disciplined, so daring, becomes the helpless victim of his own emotions. He is literally murdered by his own rampant fear of the death that he imagines awaits him, for in each life is borne the seed of its own death. The hardened maker of widows and orphans loses all control in the face of his own destruction. The vital young warrior dies an unheroic, unsung, and ignominious death.

Bierce explores both the limitations...

(The entire section is 461 words.)