Ambrose Bierce wrote short stories based on his personal experiences and observations during the American Civil War. Although it looks like Bierce’s stories are about bravery and nobility of war, in reality Bierce sends a message to his readers about the cruelty of war through different points. In each story, Bierce writes about bravery and nobility of his character but actually exposes his or her personality flaw by use of gallows humor. One of Bierce’s stories “Killed at Resaca” (Bierce 63-68) clearly shows the personality flaw, selfishness, of the main character Lieutenant Herman Brayle.
Bierce starts the story by introducing the main character Brayle and gives some information, mostly physical description, about him. Although Bierce writes, “The best soldier of our staff was Lieutenant Herman Brayle” (Bierce 63), he does not explain why Brayle is the best officer within the staff section. A statement like that at the very beginning of the story automatically sets the expectations of the reader about Brayle. One would think that Brayle is a soldier, an officer, who sets the standards and lead by example, but Bierce’s message changes in the third paragraph of the story.
Bierce writes, “we observed that he had one most objectionable and unsoldierly quality: he was vain of his courage” (Bierce 63). Bierce, as an officer in the Army, knows that Brayle’s actions does not reflect the quality of an officer should posses. Although Baryle’s actions might seem courageous and inspiring to an ordinary civilian, anybody with military background and tactical knowledge can see the underlying danger of Brayle’s actions.
Bierce continues to tell Brayle’s story using gallows humor and actually further exposes Brayle’s flaws. Bierce writes, “he would stand like a rock in the open” (Bierce 64), which actually compares Brayle with ineffectiveness of a standing rock instead of solidity of it. By standing out in the open, without taking cover, while under fire is not display of courage but it is display of foolishness. One would agree that it is courage if Brayle was acting for an apparent reason like saving another soldiers life or trying to accomplish a task that will result in defeating the enemy or saving lives of friendly forces. .
The description of Brayle while he was delivering message to line commanders, clearly implicates his selfishness. Brayle’s physical characteristics are already significant enough to draw attention of enemy sharpshooters, yet Brayle dresses in a manner that increases the attention. Brayle’s actions not only put him in danger but also puts the other soldiers’ life in danger because the enemy can identify the location of the troops by...