War by Sherwood Anderson
In War by Sherwood Anderson we have the theme of conflict, change, determination, appearance, connection and control. Taken from his The Triumph of the Egg and Other Stories collection the story is narrated in the first person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Anderson may be exploring the theme of determination. Not only is the German determined to move the refugees along the road but the old woman too is determined in her actions. While she is fighting the German she never gives up with both her and the German showing a resilience or determination to succeed in their actions albeit for different reasons. The old woman wants to return to her homeland (Poland) while the German wants to make sure that the orders he has been given are followed through. It is the drive that both the old woman and the German show in the story that suggests that both won’t allow themselves to be defeated. Though some critics might suggest that the old woman is being no more than stubborn it is important to consider the setting of the story. The old woman is fighting for her life and is struggling to return to some sense of normality in Poland. She wants no part of the war and if anything longs to be simply able to live her life as she has previously lived it.
The theme of change is also self-evident in the story. Not only has the old woman being uprooted from her home but her life as she knows it (along with her daughter’s life) has changed dramatically. Which may be the point that Anderson is attempting to make. It is possible that he is suggesting that with war or conflict comes change. No longer does an individual’s life reflect what they had previously known. Something that is very much the case for the old woman and her daughter. It may also be a case that Anderson is exploring the theme of connection. Both the old woman and the German have something in common (their determination). Similarly Anderson by having both character’s fall to the ground when they are fighting may be symbolically suggesting that both are equal something that becomes a little clearer to the reader when Anderson reverses the roles of both characters. Just as the German was leading the refugees to Germany the old woman when Anderson reverses roles takes on the responsibility of leading her fellow refugees back home to Poland.
The theme of connection is further explored through the narrator. There is a sense that though he is not fully aware of the significance of the story he has been told by the old woman’s daughter he still in some way feels connected to her. Though he can’t imagine the hardships that one might go through during a war he still has the ability to listen to the old woman’s daughter. To try and identify with how she might be feeling or how she might have felt at the time (during the war). It may also be important that the narrator at the start of the story is slightly critical of both the old woman’s daughter and her lover. He seems to be judging them based solely on their appearance. Though it is interesting that his view of them changes after he hears the daughter’s story. Similarly the German rather than Anderson describing him as one would expect a soldier to be described gives the reader an image of the German as being more like a university professor in his appearance. This may be important as it is possible that Anderson by playing on each character’s appearance is suggesting that someone may not always necessarily be what they seem to be. Which is very much the case in the story particularly when it comes to the old woman. She never gives up and shows a drive that is more associated with a younger person.
If anything Anderson throughout the story manages to play on an individual’s preconception of others. Just as the narrator had pre-judged the old woman’s daughter and her lover before knowing anything about them so too is there a sense that the old woman has been judged as being weak and feeble by the German. He has through his actions and responsibilities as a soldier attempted to control not only the old woman but all the refugees. Which may be the point that Anderson is trying to make. It is possible that he is suggesting that with war or conflict comes one individual’s desire to impose their will over another individual. Which is very much the case when it comes to the German’s actions. However it may also be significant that the old woman when Anderson reverses roles acts just as harsh as the German had. It is possible that Anderson is suggesting that the old woman, though she is an innocent victim, still nonetheless has to resort to the same tactics that the German used in order to ensure the safety of her compatriots. War has a tendency to change people whether they like it or not and the cruelties of the oppressor may be mirrored by those who are suppressed (the old woman) in order for people to survive the atrocities that come with war.