Mark Twain is one of
America’s literary icons and had strong opinions about war. In his short story,
“The War Prayer,” he describes a church congregation filled with
soldiers and their families during a buildup to war. They are interrupted during their service by
an “aged stranger” that informs them he is a messenger sent from on high to
deliver the “full import” of their prayer. He then proceeds to speak a prayer
that is the converse of the prayer spoken by the minister earlier in the
story. Twain’s message of was one set squarely
against religious and patriotic zeal for war.
He uses the literary devices of setting and irony to skillfully deliver
The setting of the
church provides a common frame of mind for the reader. Most readers of the story will have been to a
church or at least know of them historically and can derive the sense of
reverence that the congregation has for the sermon and prayer of the minister
in the story. It is this use of this
setting that helps create the atmosphere for the story. It is not likely that the crowd at a
patriotic rally might have reacted the way the people in this story did. This literary device seems to have been
chosen carefully with this in mind.
The irony in which parishioners’
prayers were draped was clearly not meant to be subtle in any way. It is quite clear that the language that
Twain chose to describe the dreams and prayers churchgoers as well as the
stranger’s prayer was meant to be dramatic and intense. In juxtaposing the two images together in the
same setting, he demonstrated the irony of the attitudes of the people. They
ask divine favor for a glorious and swift victory while ignoring the
consequences that it would bring.
Though he may have had a
varied opinion on the subject, it would appear from this story, at least that
Mark Twain did not believe that war should be sought for nor should its consequences
be ignored. This literary expression of
his feelings about patriotic and religious justification for war is an
excellent example of artistic response to one of its many aspects.
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