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The Use of Military Language in Hamlin Garland’s “The Return of a Private” Hamlin Garland’s use of language identified either solely or strongly with the military in “The Return of a Private” serves to add to the effectiveness of the larger metaphor of the story that equates man on the midwestern farm in the late middle nineteenth century with a private in the army of the Union during the Civil War. Unlike Stephen Crane in The Red Badge of Courage, Garland does not attempt to create the combat experience out of whole cloth. The one scene of combat mentioned in “The Return of a Private” is noticeably devoid of the realism one sees in, for ex­ ample, the author’s description toward the end of the story of farms and farming. The story of the fallen comrade Billy, killed by a minie ball through the heart, seems noteworthy, in fact, in that Garland carefully tells the reader that Billy fell “with his face in the dirt in the ploughed field they were marching across.” By the time the reader reaches the last two paragraph of the story—in which the author makes his explicit connection between the wars of man and nature and of man and man—he realizes that Garland has care­ fully prepared him for the analogy through the use of military language in civilian situations. We understand this on the surface: the men have just returned from war. But even when Garland men­ tions the death in combat of a comrade, he makes the connection of farming and fighting by having the dead boy fall in ploughed field. In paragraph one of the story, Garland refers to the men on the train who had left at different stations down the line as “com­ rades.” Here the soldiers, though out of the military context and on their ways home, still are tied together by their common ex­ perience and by the uniforms they wear to a particular way of thinking. That is, they are still “comrades” even though the war is over. The whole first section of this story makes use of just such terms. It is only in part two that these terms are noticeably absent, 146 Western American Literature except of course when referring to items of apparel or equipment; that is, they are not used metaphorically in part two except at the end. In paragraph three of the first part, for example, Garland refers to the four men who eventually dismount the train at La Crosse as “the little squad.” Once these men have left the train in the middle of the night, they consider where they shall sleep, and they talk about the feasibility of renting a hotel room. All but one— the unmarried man of the group—agree that taking the two dollars out of their hides is more sensible than spending the money for a room, for “It’s going to be mighty hot skirmishin’ to find a dollar. . . ” now that they have returned. The transition from soldier to civilian is in progress, but the thoughts of the problems of the farmer and provider are couched in the language of the soldier. The battle to come is prepared for here. The three men who decide to stay in the station house for the night prepare to “camp down” on the floor and benches. They are repatriating, but are not repatriated. And again, in paragraph 27 of part one, the narrator tells of the men’s search for coffee for breakfast: “They foraged around, and finally found a restaurant with a sleepy old German behind the counter, and procured some coffee which they drank to wash down their hardtack.” Even when Garland as the narrator speaks about things other than the returned soldiers and their activities, he uses military allusions in this first part. In paragraph 15, for example, he refers to the magnificent bluffs east of the town as standing . . like some huge battlemented castle.” Here not only the idea of life as strife is carried on, but a historical dimension is added to it as well. What is probably the best indication of Garland’s understand­ ing of the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 145-147
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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