Themes and Meanings
Claude, like many idealistic people, searches for his place in life and for something larger than himself to which he can devote his energies. He reflects the unselfish idealism of America’s past as challenged by the mechanization, materialism, and greed of the twentieth century. Though World War I may well have occurred because of greed, Claude sees it only as “the war to end all wars,” a decisive, final struggle against the ideas most repugnant to him.
This is not to imply that he sees the Allies’ methods or even his comrades-in-arms as blameless. Captain (later Colonel) Maxey is incompetent; commanding officers often order their men to take actions that are certain to result in death, and Claude recognizes their culpability. Even so, he sees the cause as essentially noble and morally right. Appropriately, Claude receives his greatest support from the unselfish Mahailey, who has childhood memories of the Civil War and knows war’s horrors at first hand. Prospering in business, as does Bayliss, acquiring land for speculative purposes, as does Nat, or spending irresponsibly on useless luxuries, as does Ralph, are for Claude unsatisfactory substitutes for nobler, harder-won goals.