Analysis

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 612

In this biography of Arnold for young people, Fritz begins the book with a situation that young people can understand. The fourteen-year-old Arnold was humiliated by his family’s circumstances and was angered by the taunts of his peers. He became determined that he would be the best in all the...

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In this biography of Arnold for young people, Fritz begins the book with a situation that young people can understand. The fourteen-year-old Arnold was humiliated by his family’s circumstances and was angered by the taunts of his peers. He became determined that he would be the best in all the boyhood games and soon established a reputation as the most daring boy in Norwich, Connecticut. The author cites an incident in which Arnold, in front of a crowd of boys, grabbed an arm of a mill wheel and, gripping it tightly, held onto the wheel through its full circle, finally jumping free high in the air, splashing into the mill pond, and swimming to the bank. This feat earned Arnold the acclaim that he sought, and the author uses the incident with the mill wheel as a metaphor for Arnold’s daring search for glory throughout his life.

Arnold was also determined to be rich, yet he would repeat his father’s business mistakes. When Arnold completed his apprenticeship and set up his own shop, he advertised as “B. Arnold, Druggist and Bookseller, etc., from London,” a claim based upon the buying trip he had made to that city to provision his store. He took as his motto “Sibi Totique,” meaning “For self and all,” and he lived lavishly, although on credit. Eventually, his creditors sent him to jail for his debts, but Arnold never acknowledged any responsibility for his failure. This pattern would be repeated many times, as he presented padded expense accounts to Congress and became angry when his accounting practices were questioned. Later, he would con-tinue unsuccessfully his questionable financial practices with the British.

Such a character was fated to be both admired and distrusted. During the Ticonderoga campaign, Arnold’s first military success, he was accused of financial misdealings and earned the enmity of fellow officer Lieutenant Colonel John Brown. In the Canadian campaign, Arnold again proved his bravery and daring, yet was suspected of financial misdeeds. Fritz notes an interesting prophecy made during this campaign by an Abenaki chief, Natanais, about Arnold, whom he called Dark Eagle. Natanais claimed that the Dark Eagle would soar high but most certainly would fall to earth.

Using quotations from letters and other primary sources, Fritz shows clearly Arnold’s view of himself as a man who had made great sacrifices for his country and who had been slighted by both Congress and the Continental Army. He had persuaded himself the American cause was lost and that, to provide for himself and his family, it was merely wise and not treasonous to cast his lot with the British. Fritz also shows clearly how his peers viewed Arnold. As early as 1777, his enemy John Brown was claiming that Arnold would do anything for money, even if it meant sacrificing his country. Still, no one questioned Arnold’s undeniable courage and inspired leadership in the heat of battle.

Arnold’s treason, therefore, was a shock, especially coupled as it was with the capture and execution of Major André, who was perceived as the better individual even by his captors. When it was suggested to Washington that Arnold after his defection must be going through the torments of hell, the betrayed general said that he did not believe that Arnold had such feelings. That statement, the author suggests, sums up Arnold’s character and explains his treason. The book is a fascinating study of a man who, in both his triumphs and his failures, was thinking only of himself and was lacking in feeling for others. According to Fritz, he never understood that there was more to life than grabbing onto mill wheels.

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