Formalist Criticism of “The War Prayer”

Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, traveled the globe and learned of other countries’ imperialistic attempts. Following his return to America, he joined the Anti-Imperialist League and was instrumental in criticizing British and American policies. In 1905, he wrote the short story “The War Prayer” in order to enlighten the committed war-loving individuals. The debate that follows is a formalist critique of the narrative.
The War Prayer by Mark Twain is a reflection of the arrogance and cynicism of human thought during times of war. The writer depicts his stance of opposition in regards to the war by using rhetoric and satire. Twain’s application of irony in the piece outlines his general perspective of the war (O’Connor, 2014 p 17).
In the first paragraph, Twain uses characterization and imagery to initiate the first tone of the writing. The opening paragraph starts on a tone that is passion brazen. Twain distinguishes patriotism and exuberant spirit of the individuals by the use of explicit imagery. The general disposition of the crowd is shown when Twain defines “the bands playing the toy pistols popping and the bunched fireworks hissing and sputtering” (Twain, 2009 p 19) Nonetheless, when the paragraph ends, suddenly there is a change in the tone indicating a feeling of fright among people who did not approve the war.
Twain’s resistance to war is evident when he speaks of the hail-dozen spirits of rash, which ventures to resist the war. All through the writing, it is obvious that he constitutes part of this small rash category, which fails to find a cause in the war. He employs the Old Testament concept and not the New Testament to cite the merciless perceptions of people. In the story, the tone shifts all over again when the stranger prays, from an optimism tone to sarcasm and intensity.
Twain’s worrisome story requires action to witness results of wishing for death while making prayer for war. The writer’s cynical disagreement intertwines the sarcastic notion of seeking for peace and undertaking it most obscuringly by killing. Within the melancholic disagreement, Twain’s application of rhetorical inquiry is a critical effect since it enables readers to reason in a recent prospective possible instead of that which assist in focusing on the better side.
All things have contradictions and in this case, it is evil and a good, which reflects his different mode of thinking. An educative Twain applies contrast between pessimistic and optimistic sides via the two preachers. One of them gives an impassioned spiritual speech regarding the young soldier’s courage while seeking for help from the God of battles. On the contrary, the other arrives like a heavenly messenger carrying a sign of the war and its consequences.
The final paragraph presents the reality of the writing. Twain uses imagery to highlight his aim and envisions the current scenes. He employs a general dose of irony to communicate blind ignorance shown by individuals who do not acknowledge the folly in utilizing religion to justify war. The stranger recounts the last segment of the prayer truthfully and reveals the bitter reality as well as the actual nature of war. O’Connor, (2014 p 22) states that the atmosphere of the writing indicates a sense of disdain and approval for war.
Twain’s darker imagery is also evident in his awful explanation of the war narrated by the old stranger, which shows an immediate sense of fear. This position is disgusting to readers and impacts strongly on the irony of asking for war to bring peace is likened to regaining virginity upon its loss. Twain’s horrid story does not pass his voice across unlike his emotionally educated and charged diction would pick the hopes of readers and crush them into tiny valueless pieces (O’Connor, 2014 p 17).

Works Cited
O’Connor, Frank. Collected Stories. New York, Open Road Media, 2014,.
Twain, Mark. The War Prayer. 2009

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