Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Throughout the story, there is an emphasis on eyes and vision. When Peza first appears, he “look[s] at everything,” specifically the fleeing peasants, “with . . . pitying glances.” His protestations of patriotism to the lieutenant are described as the overflow of emotion “which heretofore had been expressed only in the flash of eyes.” At every step along his journey, his eyes are assaulted with the sights of war. He often imagines eyes gazing at him, most horrifyingly when the “two liquid-like eyes” of a corpse seem to stare into him. When he encounters the child, he “roll[s] his eye glassily” toward him and “gaze[s] up into his face.” Compelled again and again to open his eyes to the immediate facts of the world, Peza undergoes a literal visual awakening through which his vision is successively cleansed of his mind’s romantic and theoretical attitude toward war and life.

In the first phase of this visual evolution, Peza is struck by the disturbing sight of the refugees as they course wildly down the mountain. This image arouses his physical emotions, the feeling of pity and consanguinity that culminates in his patriotic vision of the war. As he ventures farther and the images of jaded soldiers replace those of the miserable peasants, he experiences an aesthetic perception. The soldiers’ oversaturation with the tragedy and ferocity of war he compares with a visit to a picture gallery where his mind had become so glutted with...

(The entire section is 505 words.)