Looking at "Knowlt Hoheimer" and "Godwin James" of the Spoon River Anthology, what type of viewpoint do these epitaphs present on war?

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shake99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

“Knowlt Hoheimer” and “Godwin James” present very different viewpoints on war.

In “Knowlt Hoheimer” we have a character who joined the army during the Civil War to avoid legal trouble. After he is shot in the heart and dies, he decides he shouldn’t have enlisted after all. This is made clear in the second half of the poem when he says:

Rather a thousand times the county jail
Than to lie under this marble figure with wings,
And this granite pedestal
Bearing the words, “Pro Patria.”
What do they mean, anyway?

The words “pro patria” mean “for one’s country.” The fact that he doesn’t even know what these words mean underscores the fact that he felt no patriotic desire at all to fight for his side in the war.

“Godwin James”, on the other hand, looks at his part a bit differently. Throughout most of the poem the speaker is drawing a distinction between himself and another character, Harry Wilmans. Wilmans fought and died in Manila in the Spanish-American War. James believes that Wilmans was just a soldier doing a job—not someone inspired by a noble cause. He says of Wilmans:

You were not wounded by the greatness of a dream,
Or destroyed by ineffectual work,
Or driven to madness by Satanic snags;
You were not torn by aching nerves,
Nor did you carry great wounds to your old age.

Now, back to how this poem differs from the first, Knowlt Hoheimer.” These lines show that Godwin, unlike Knowlton Hoheimer, was inspired by the “dream” of the war in participated in. Hoheimer was simply looking for an escape route. It also shows that the effects of war stayed with Godwin for the rest of his long life, while Hoheimer died young.

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Spoon River Anthology

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