How does William Dean Howells unmask the conventional ideas of heroism in Editha?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One way in which Howells unmasks the conventional ideas of heroism in Editha is through suggesting that socially accepted conventions of valor might not be valid.  Essentially, Editha believes that George enlisting and fighting in the war is the basis of heroism. She defines heroism in the socially dictated and conventional manner: War is heroic, and nothing fatal can happen to those who embrace the validity of military conflict.  Howells unmasks the conventional ideas of heroism through this depiction.  Editha never validates how heroic George could be in voicing his opposition to the war, or how heroic George might be in standing for his beliefs. Rather, Editha embodies the conventional ideas of heroism.

When George dies and Editha must acknowledge the implications of his death in seeing his mother, Howells reveals how the conventional and socially mandated notions of heroism might be lacking.  When Editha is confronted with the reality of what war brings in terms of death and prolonged hurt, the conventional ideas of heroism are questioned, if not rejected.  Even in the ending where Editha goes back to embracing her glorified notion of conventional heroism, the reader recognizes how empty the conventional ideas surrounding the nature of heroism might be.  Howell's analysis to this end help to unmask the conventional ideas of the nature of heroism.

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