“Miniver Cheevy,” which first appeared in Scribner’s Magazine and later in The Town Down the River, presents a character whose name suits him. His name sounds as if it belongs to the medieval past that he wishes still existed. His name also satirically hints at his minimal achievements in life. Miniver maintains that he was born too late, that he should have lived many centuries ago. He childishly romanticizes the Greeks’ siege of Troy, Alexander the Great’s attack on Thebes, and King Arthur’s combat near Camelot, as if such battles were fun. Such mistaken fantasies of past warfare inform his rejection of the khaki military uniform of his own time as too deficient in grandeur. When Miniver speaks of the gracefulness of medieval armor, the outlandishness of his claim is evident because medieval body armor was not graceful.
Besides modern warfare, Miniver finds fault with contemporary politics, which he says fails in comparison to the Renaissance rule of the passionate Medicis in Florence, Italy. Believing he should have been born rich, Miniver will not work and looks down on people who succeed financially. The more readers hear about Miniver, the angrier he seems to become until he curses the change of seasons. This moment, like his notion of graceful body armor, undercuts Miniver’s credibility. It is senseless to rail at something so natural and inevitable as the change of the seasons or the passage of time.
When in the last stanza Miniver coughs and “call[s] it fate,” for him the word “it” refers to his ill-timed life. However, the immediate referent of that word is “cough,” and by joining of two meanings around “it,” the narrator...
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