Traitor Critical Context - Essay

Jean Fritz

Critical Context

Fritz’s study of Arnold is one of several popular biographies of revolutionary war era characters that she has written for young readers. She does not deify these figures, as earlier young people’s biographies had, but depicts them in the full flesh of their humanity. In this book, she first makes the reader sympathetic to the humiliations that Arnold suffered as an adolescent and then shows how his character was shaped by his struggle for admiration. Fritz also explains how his failure to develop a sense of responsibility as he matured perpetuated within him adolescent characteristics; he was bold, headstrong, easily offended, and self-centered. The first two characteristics made him a superb soldier, but the latter two kept him in conflict with his peers and superiors.

In this study of Arnold, Fritz presents him as courageous yet self-pitying, admirable yet exasperating. Her work is valuable to young readers not only for its lively account of important events in American history but also for its depiction of the torments that beset an individual who lived for self alone. Arnold wished to make a name for himself, but ironically, in a chapel at West Point where names of revolutionary war generals are engraved on plaques, the plaque for Arnold lists only his dates—17411801—not his name.