War is more than political conflict; war drags the civilian into the violence of battle and devastation of disease as civilian-turned soldier risks his life for his country. The Great War dragged on for over four years and much more than human foes threatened the well-being of soldiers. Trench foot, infection, and vermin festered in the trenches and could be more threatening to a soldier’s life than the enemy’s gun. Technological advancements led to new weapons, such as poisonous gas, machine guns, and shells, which increased the number of injuries that plagued soldiers. New dangers from disease and weaponry constantly challenging soldiers’ health stimulated a change in the treatments provided to the soldiers. New solutions included defensive gear such as helmets, masks, and rigorous daily routines to defend against weapons, and balance the lagging medical remedies. Although both sides were constantly trying to protect the soldiers’ well-being and improve their health in the barbaric wartime conditions, the millions of casualties speak for themselves. War demanded that soldiers make sacrifices in order to protect the nation.
Adam Barclay, the romantic interest of Katherine Anne Porter’s Miranda from Pale Horse, Pale Ride, was a courageous soldier who dedicated his life to protecting his country. Despite his dedication he loses his life to the influenza epidemic and the inadequate treatment provided to soldiers. Initially, Miranda uses Adam’s presence to mask her problems, but his death forces her to confront them. Miranda, like many of Porter’s characters, attempts to escape the unhappiness caused by her troubles. However, as they begin to recognize their mistakes they isolate themselves out of shame or are shunned by society. By ostracizing them, the community attempts to promote desirable qualities and bury unacceptable flaws. Yet some imperfections survive, remaining unnoticed and infecting the world. In constructing characters plagued by prejudice, superficiality, and self denial, Porter forces society to realize their flaws in order to correct them. In the end, Porter leaves neither an uplifted soul nor broken being crippled by society and its errors, in the hopes of enlightening humanity.
Major Works Consulted:
Keene, Jennifer D. American Soldiers’ Lives: World War I. Westport: Greenwood, 2006.
Photo Credit: Porter, Katherine Anne. Ship of Fools. New York: Back Bay, 2000.
Porter, Katherine Anne. The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter. New York: Harcourt, 1979.
---. Ship of Fools. New York: Back Bay, 2000.
Sheffield, Gary, ed. War on the Western Front in the Trenches of World War I. Oxford: Osprey, 2007.