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Last Updated on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 455

"Editha" is a short story by William Dean Howells.

The story begins with Editha's fiance, George Gearson, announcing that war is imminent. For Editha, George's exuberance is a change from his usual tentative manner. Once inclined to be a minister, George never demonstrates the kind of earnestness Editha favors in...

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"Editha" is a short story by William Dean Howells.

The story begins with Editha's fiance, George Gearson, announcing that war is imminent. For Editha, George's exuberance is a change from his usual tentative manner. Once inclined to be a minister, George never demonstrates the kind of earnestness Editha favors in a man.

Editha believes that a man should prove himself worthy of her. She would have preferred that George do something grand to secure her love from the beginning. Now that war is upon them, Editha believes that Providence has intervened on her behalf. She likens the coming war to a sacred undertaking. Editha also believes that George's ability to show courage proves his worthiness of her.

During their interaction, however, George expresses some clear reservations. He questions the rush to moralize war and begs to know what Editha would have him believe. Privately, Editha is frustrated. She believes that George should not need her prompting to act purposefully.

When George does not stay for dinner, Editha's mother is surprised. For her part, Editha will only say that war has been declared. Meanwhile, Editha's mother hopes that George will not go to war. Editha disagrees with the sentiment. She then decides to send her engagement ring and all of George's gifts and letters back to him.

In her letter, Editha tells George that a husband must share her convictions about war to be worthy of her. She claims that she will never marry anyone else; she will entrust the packageto his care until he makes up his mind about fighting for his country. Later, George comes to Editha and reveals that he was the first in their community to sign up to fight. He calls himself a "convert" to war, and Editha hands her letter (and package) to him.

For his part, George fears that his mother will take his change of heart poorly. After all, he is her only son. Editha and George soon part ways at the train station, where George leaves with his regiment.

In due time, Editha receives news that George has been killed in battle. She descends into deep depression and mourns for a time. Eventually, Editha visits Mrs. Gearson, who castigates her for sending her son off to war. Mrs. Gearson admonishes Editha for not counting the true cost of the war. She maintains that girls and women never expect their men to die. In short, the true consequences of war are lost on most people.

The story ends with an artist consoling Editha. The painter tells Editha that she cannot understand people who discount the positive consequences of war. Her support buoys Editha, who rises from her "shame and self-pity" to embrace the ideal of war once again.

Summary

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 535

An impressionable young woman, Editha bases her sentimental views about war on the yellow journalism that she reads in the current newspapers. She insists that her fiancé, George Gearson, a conscientious objector, fight in the Spanish-American War. She is ecstatic that war is being declared and cannot understand his dislike for war and his unwillingness to fight in a war. She believes that a man who wants to win her must do something to deserve her. Now is his chance, because the Spanish-American War has been declared. Editha joyfully repeats jingoistic newspaper phrases to George, but he remains ironic, thoughtful, and rational. When George leaves Editha’s presence after war has been declared, Editha’s mother says that she hopes that George will not enlist, but Editha hopes that he will. Editha puts her engagement ring and various mementos into a package with a letter to George telling him to keep them until he enlists. She decides to keep the package for a while in case George does the right thing. George returns to the Balcom household that evening with the news that he has led the prowar speakers at the town meeting and will be the captain of the local volunteers.

Editha gives George her letter as he leaves, to show him how serious she is about the war. She tells him that war is in the order of Providence: There are no two sides about war; there is nothing now but their country. George remains silent after Editha’s words, musing and pensive. Editha brings him a glass of lemonade and calls the war a sacred war, a war for liberty and humanity. However, she notices a strange thing in men; they seem to feel bound to do what they believe, and not think a thing is finished when they say it, as women do. George muses that he should have been a preacher after all, and he asks Editha to help his widowed mother, who opposes war, if he is killed. Editha writes to Mrs. Gearson, who is not well enough to reply.

Word comes that George is dead, killed in one of the first battles. Editha becomes ill but does not die. She eventually goes with her father to Iowa to see Mrs. Gearson, who surprises her with her cold bitterness and irony. Mrs. Gearson derides Editha’s eagerness to send George off to kill other young men and Editha’s assumption that George would suffer only some trifling, glamorous wound and return to her in glory. Mrs. Gearson ends by saying she was glad George was killed before he could kill some other mother’s son, and she attacks Editha for wearing mourning clothes. Instead of being aware of the reality of war and its consequences, Editha had been swept up by the sentimentality of war and the glamour and escapism of fighting a war in a foreign land.

That summer, a visiting lady painter consoles Editha. She says that the war was good for the country, that Editha’s behavior was exemplary, and that Mrs. Gearson’s behavior was vulgar. At this final word, Editha’s misery falls away and she begins to live once again in the ideal.

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