Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

As is typical of many Bierce stories, style and technique are practically everything in “Chickamauga.” Although he wrote during a period of American literature characterized by realistic depictions of external reality, Bierce maintained his allegiance to Romanticism. Often compared with the originator of the American short story, Edgar Allan Poe, Bierce focuses not so much on external reality as he does on the strange, dreamlike world that lies somewhere between fantasy and reality. Thus, the genius of his stories lies not in their theme, which is often fairly obvious, but in the delicate and tightly controlled way that Bierce tells the story, creating a playfully nightmarish world that involves the reader emotionally.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of “Chickamauga” —the technique that creates its unforgettable effect—is Bierce’s handling of point of view and tone. On the one hand, the story depends on Bierce’s developing the perspective of the child, in which the reader is made to see the maimed and bleeding soldiers as circus clowns and childlike playmates for the boy. However, this point of view is balanced by that of an adult narrator, who counterpoints the boy’s childish view, sometimes in a developed background exposition, sometimes in a flat declarative statement. For example, when the boy seems to see some strange animals that he does not recognize crawling through the forest, the narrator simply says, “They were men.” When the boy sees men lying in the water as if without heads, the narrator simply says, “They were...

(The entire section is 639 words.)