The quality of art or literature that causes readers to feel sorrow, tenderness, or sympathy is called pathos. Writing about the casualties of war quite naturally has a quality of pathos. In October 1918, the editors of The Stars and Stripes printed a letter from a soldier named Bennie, writing from the trenches in the Argonne to his mother. The letter closed with the lines "But don't worry one bit, Mother dear, if the Boches get me I will get ten of them while they are about it. This will be all until next time." The editors added a postscript:
"The next time never came for Bennie. When the burial squad found this letter in his shirt pocket he was lying with his face towards Germany, his right front finger pressing the trigger of his rifle. A few yards in front of him was a German machine gun nest. There were nine dead Germans in the pit."
Read Bennie's letter, as well as some of the other items under the headline "Echoes from the Argonne Fight." Consider the following questions:
- What do you think was the overall purpose of the set of brief stories combined under the heading "Echoes from the Argonne Fight"?
- What was the point of printing Bennie's letter and the postscript about the Germans he had killed before dying? Do the letter and postscript reflect pathos? Why or why not?
- Does the report appear authentic? What evidence is there to support your position?
- How would this account have affected the morale of soldiers at the front?
Another example of pathos can be found in a June 1919 letter to the editor entitled "The Adopted Graves." In this letter, a soldier who signed himself simply "A Yank" described his encounter with a French mother who has tended the grave of his comrade, who was killed in action. Read the letter and answer the following questions:
- How effective was the "Yank" in expressing the feelings of the "old mother of France"?
- Pathos can be an inherent element of a sad story. It can also be enhanced through the language a writer uses. Can you find examples of the Yank's language that enhance the story's pathos?
- What can you discern from this open letter to the editors about the regard French civilians had for American servicemen?
- How do you think families of American servicemen killed in France would have responded upon reading this letter?
Find a story in the newspaper that has elements of pathos. Rewrite the story, using language that enhances the story's pathos.