"The Coup de Grace" Define the story's title. Explain the significance of this phrase in relation to the characters-Capt Madwell, Major,and Sergeant.add any thing about the climax.

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Ambrose Bierce's story, coup de grace is a double entendre: on the one hand, it means a merciful killing, a deathblow, with or without the victim's permission; and, on the other hand it can mean the finishing blow, which can be figurative and mean the crowning blow, a deathblow, to one's reputation, career,etc.

The twist of fate that leads Captain Madwell to deliver his particular coup de grace to his old friend--the "boon of oblivion" to a man suffering in a hideous manner--is the fact that he runs out of bullets after he mercifully kills a dying horse.  He then must use his sword to put his friend, Caffal Halcrow, out of his pain.  This time he does not withdraw his eyes, as he has done with the horse.  Instead, he places his sword above Caffal's heart and thrust downward with all his strength; as he does so, Sergeant Halcrow grabs the sword tightly as he dies.  At the moment that the captain withdraws the sword, Major Creede Halcrow, his enemy, steps with two witnesses from "behind the clump of young trees which had concealed their approach."

Thus, Major Creede Halcrow is now able to deal his coup de grace to Captain Madwell, for whom he has long held "a natural antipathy."  Insults have been exchanged, and the major is certainly glad that he has witnessed this incident, for he can now use it to issue his own career-ruining coup de grace to the major.

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The Coup de Grâce

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