Irony in the poem “War is kind” by Crane
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Stephen Crane’s style of writing is characterized by the widespread use of irony in his works. The poem “War is kind” is considered to be the brilliant example of the usage of it because of poem’s tone being rather bitter and sarcastic. It breaks readers’ expectations of that the whole poem will be negative as well as such words like “war” and “death” have rather negative connotation. Crane uses different types of irony as a strategy to convince the reader of the severe reality of war.
Verbal irony is used by Crane as a proof by contradiction theory, because some kinds of simile and litotes frequently become its means of emphasizing an incongruity between the literal and the implied meaning. The title of the poem itself is ironic and even oxymoronic one. People associate “war” with death, evil and mourning, but no way with “kindness”. That is why that sarcastic tone becomes audible from the very beginning. At the first stanza Crane seemed to explain the “kindness” of war having said that the “lover” passed away. “…for war is kind, because your lover threw wild hands toward the sky”. Crane used verbal irony to emphasize the cruelty of war which is obviously not kind as taking away human life. The third stanza gives the same idea and the author remains cynical about war regardless the father seemed to be the romantic hero. Oxymoronic expressions “the virtue of slaughter” and “the excellence of killing” make readers feel author’s irony, which is bitter one in the fourth stanza. There is a mockery in the tone of the poem when Crane says “the bright splendid shroud” because there is not anything vivid in the picture of dead kid covered with sheet. The mother’s heart is compared to a button that is kind of litotes.
There is a peak of Crane’s irony in the fourth stanza. “These men were born to drill and die. Point for them the virtue of slaughter, Make plain to them the excellence of killing”. The fatality of these poor men is obvious for readers, but their blindness to grim reality, when the slaughter is not virtuous indeed, remains incomprehensible for readers. Unfortunately, it seems like no one in the poem gets this irony that there's no logical connection between the “excellence of killing” and “a field where a thousand corpses lie”, except the readers who see the author’s dramatic irony.
The second stanza Crane uses weasel words “little souls” when saying about those who have to be the fearless soldiers. The line “Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment” depicts really ominous situation and presages soldiers’ death. Crane says “Little souls who thirst for fight, These men were born to drill and die” with ironic smile. They seemed to be like machines, being forced to fight under “unexplained glory”, which lust for battle even though this war is senselessness. Crane shows his attitude towards war with situational irony in this stanza.
Crane breaks readers’ expectation to see the fight because those men even do not fight on the field which is covered with a thousand corpses. The author uses irony to heighten the impact of his poem on the readers. He remains cynical about war and depicts it as an inhumane, evil and appalling struggle. The repetition of the line “A field where a thousand corpses lie” creates horrible picture of war and makes a contrast to desirable heroic pathos of the poem. The most important opinion is expressed in the refrain “Do not weep. War is kind” which at first sight gives the reader a wrong idea of author’s attitude but has an opposite meaning. Crane uses irony to engage a reader's attention to help them develop deeper levels of meaning of his poem.
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