The structuralism theory argues that one has to bring the various signs of the universe as a part of the mode of discourse which his or her culture enables to make meaning from a literary text. Cultural conventions after some time become thoroughly internalized to a point where they seem to be natural. The main structuralism notion is with the force of general conventions in meeting the expectations of the reader which may or may not be fulfilled by the text. Also central to the structuralist thought is the notion that establishing meaning involves the interplay of the signified and the signifier. Mark Twain in his War Prayer gives a simple message that the unspoken part of the desire for victory over the enemy also means the desire that death and misery befall the others. The setting of this text is in the early 1900s at a time when America was caught up with the idea of imperialism and was extending its influence to other nations of the world by use of military forces. The War Prayer by Twain was written during this time and intrigued against the common and popular philosophy of this time which is that of imperialism. Harper’s Bazaar considered this essay to be too controversial and believed that it was not suitable for the public to read. Therefore the essay was not published until the time he had died, and the philosophy of imperialism had lost its importance and favor.
The essay by Twain discussed the philosophy of imperialism as well as its consequences. Twain utilizes a wide range of characters like the case of the stranger and the priest to contrast anti-imperialism and pro-imperialism. Ultimately this essay by Twain reveals to the readers the prayer for victory in a war is also similar to praying for the defeat of another country. Twain demonstrates the brutality of imperialism in this essay. The preacher prays that the “ Father of all to watch over the young soldiers, give them comfort, aid, and encourage them in all their patriotic work and to bless and shield them, make the strong and confident” (653). This prayer according to Twain is a contortion of the Christian teachings in whose principles are based on love and forgiveness. The messenger is the stranger is the opposite of the preacher. Twain portrays the stranger as a middle-aged man who claims to be the messenger of ***. he is also a tall man clothed in a long robe that stretches his feet. He also ha, ‘long white hair declining in a frothy cataract to his shoulders. His face is pale to ghastliness naturally” (65). The messenger contrasts all things taking place, and he asks the congregation to pause and think what they have prayed for their prayers to be answered. He informs them that their prayer for victory means they have also prayed for other unmentioned results after the victory.
Here Twain shows his conflict with Christianity. The use of prayer to win war also means more than a simple victory. It also means dreadful and horrible things are happening to other people. The people fail to have an answer to the message of the messenger. It is later that the people assume the stranger to be lunatic and his message from *** is dismissed. Here, Twain is stressing the people’s stupidity and arrogance.
Mark Twain – Collected Tales, Sketches, Speeches, & Essays 1891 – 1910. Ed. Louis J. Budd. New York: California UP, 1993. 652-655.
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