“My advice to other disabled people would be, concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you doing well, and don’t regret the things it interferes with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.” This quote was once proclaimed by the late Stephen Hawking who was diagnosed with ALS at an early age. Even though Hawking had a degenerative disease that caused physical impairments, he was still able to make a significant impact on the world and our knowledge of theoretical physics. Within “Chickamauga: A Short Story”, Ambrose Bierce comments on the life of a person with disabilities in a war infused society. In addition, Ambrose Bierce utilizes this story to expose and refute society’s negative view of people with disabilities.
Throughout the story, the author hints that the main character has a disability; however, not till the end are the readers formally informed that the child is a deaf mute. As seen in the first few sentences of the short story, a child is introduced into the story who has escaped his home and is wandering through the forest. The author’s syntax suggests that the boy’s adventure is one of the first times that he has ventured outside of the confines of his abode. Immediately, the imagination of the child takes over as he lives out the alternative reality that inhabits in his mind. At this point in the story, Ambrose Bierce reveals the need of positivity and imagination for people with disabilities to live a full and happy life due to the everyday hardships they may face.
As the story progresses, the boy’s character is constructed in a way that focuses on his childhood and not his disabilities. The invisibility of the boy’s disabilities demonstrates that people are not defined by their disabilities and can offer a significant impact on society. By revealing the disability at the end of the story, the readers blame the boy’s ignorant acts on his age such as when he tried to ride one of the injured soldiers like a horse. If the author would have disclosed the child’s disability in the beginning of the story, the readers would have made assumption that his disability caused his lack of responsibility and social differences. Ambrose Bierce intentionally does not reveal the disability of the child in order to expose societies innate negative view of people with disabilities.
Throughout history, people with disabilities have been seen as societal burdens; however, Bierce uses this story to demonstrate the importance of people with disabilities. By basing the story around a boy who is both mute and deaf, Bierce subtly illustrates that people with disabilities can be the foundation of people’s lives. In this story, when the child was lost, his mother is heartbroken not relieved that her son is gone. Whenever the boy leaves the home, he returns to find his mother dead and his house burned to the ground. This is symbolic to how the child was the foundation of his family and not merely the burden which society may claim. People with disabilities are humans who show an incredible amount of strength during difficult times. As a society, it is necessary to fight the urge to label people as “normal” or “different” because people with “differences” can be the foundation of many social structures.