‘Decoration Day’ by Sarah Orne Jewett

Decoration Day by Sarah Orne Jewett, 1892

The magic trick:

Putting the reader in the same position as the typical resident of the story’s town

We break briefly from our regularly scheduled month of Latin American stories. And yes, I know Decoration Day was in May, but this one of the more patriotic stories you’re going to find. It’s a simple concept, and it’s to Jewett’s credit that it’s a simple story. The idea goes like this: the war veterans who secure the safety of pleasant small-town life often are forgotten by the very small-town folks who benefit most from their sacrifice. So we see in this story.

We meet the main characters when they’re old as they go through the routines of their simple farm lives. It’s hard for us to imagine, then, that they were once heroic Civil War soldiers fighting for the country’s very existence. It’s also hard for the younger families in town to imagine it. That’s the point. The holiday, the parade of veterans – it means a lot to the men and the town alike. The story puts right in the middle of that perspective. And that’s quite a trick on Jewett’s part.

The selection:

The procession went on, and stopped here and there at the little graveyards on the farms, leaving their bright flags to flutter through summer and winter rains and snows, and to bleach in the wind and sunshine. When they returned to the church, the minister made an address about the war, and every one listened with new ears. Most of what he said was familiar enough to his listeners; they were used to reading those phrases about the results of the war, the glorious future of the South, in their weekly newspapers; but there never had been such a spirit of patriotism and loyalty waked in Barlow as was waked that day by the poor parade of the remnant of the Barlow soldiers. They sent flags to all the distant graves, and proud were those households who claimed kinship with valor, and could drive or walk away with their flags held up so that others could see that they, too, were of the elect.


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