Disability in Chicamagua

A disability can be defined as “a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s movements, senses, or activities”.  One’s disability can change perception of the world around them.  This is exactly what happens in Abrose Bierce’s Chicamagua.

In this short story, the main character, a little boy who is a deaf mute, has no idea that his entire world is  crumbling around him until he walks into his dead mother and sees his house on fire.  Bierce does well to portray the boy as a normal child enjoying a  day of make believe in the woods throughout the tale.  When the boy falls asleep, he cannot hear the war that is going on around him.  His world is peaceful.  When he awakes and stumbles upon the wounded men crawling toward his plantation, he does not hear the chaos of the battle or their cries of pain.  He can only rely on what he sees, and all he can relate their crawling to is a “horse play” game that workers on the plantation would play with him.  He uses the soldiers as a means of fun and plays alongside them as they are dying around him.  They are an exciting new development that allows him to join in and “play fight” alongside them, leading them into battle as  they crawl slowly behind him.

It is only at the end of the tale that the boy’s disability is made known and that he discovers that his world is crumbling.  He finds his plantation in flames and his mother fatally wounded by a shell. Had he been a abled boy, he might have heard the battle happening as he played in the woods and come home in time enough to warn his family.  Unfortunately his disability also highlighted his lack of awareness of the situation and that he had no idea of the tragedy occurring around him.  He experienced a moment of joy and fun while those around him were dying.

The boy with his impairment is constructed to be thought of as able. as the plot goes on, making his jumping on the bodies of dismembered and disabled soldiers seem even more grotesque.  His disability highlights his innocence and the innocence of children in general, especially during the violence of war.  In the end when he discovers his family home is destroyed, he becomes an object to be pitied, as many disabled persons are portrayed in narratives.  His naivety due to his deafness is “true” of many children as a whole during times of war.

Author: Hannah Neumann

Housing & Residential Educ