April 18, 2015

Essay on Louisa May Alcott's 'Death of a Soldier' from Hospital Sketches

I am writing a lot to practice for the AP English test, and this is a response to one prompt. This isn't my usual writing style, so I would love your opinion on how it sounds and flows because in all honesty, it sounds horribly awkward to me, but that might just be because I'm not used to this style. Here is a link to the original story: http://grammar.about.com/od/classicessays/a/Death-Of-A-Soldier-By-Louisa-May-Alcott.htm 

There is something incredibly touching and sobering about a well-written account of a soldier who died fighting for what he believed in. Louisa May Alcott recorded her own soul wrenching encounter with beautiful metaphors and touching dialog in her non-fiction narrative Hospital Sketches.  Alcott seamlessly conveys the sympathy and care she felt for a dying Civil War soldier at the hospital where she was a nurse.


“Every breath he draws is like a stab.”  One compelling way Alcott catches the sympathies of her reader is through descriptive similes like the one above and lyrical metaphors. When the author describes a wounded and dying soldier's, named John, pain as “like a stab” it gives us a reference point. We know what breathing is supposed to be like: constant, easy, and second nature. We also know, in some context, what “a stab” feels like. A stabbing sensation is associated with a quick, sharp pain that cannot go unnoticed. When “every breath… is like a stab” that gives the reader a very specific picture and sensation. Alcott once again uses simile saying, “gathering the bent head in my arms as freely as if he had been a little child”. This example conveys the picture of John being vulnerable as a young child would be. The author uses two touching metaphor. The first is used to describe John’s last breaths: “the heavy breaths still tore their way up… short they were but the waves of an ebbing tide that beat unfelt against the wreck.”           

Alcott recounts John’s words through dialog in order to show the reader what kind of character John had. Starting with the first lines of dialog, we learn that “there isn’t the slightest hope for him.” This line begins the reader’s sympathy for John. After Alcott says, “let me help you bear I, John” we get the first glimpse at John’s character. He whispers his response “thank you, m’am… I didn’t like to be trouble.” And we know. We know that John, even when he is on the brink of death, thinks of others first. We know that he is a kind person. And we know that we care about what will happen next. The Author describes John’s dialog as “so hopeful[ly] when there was no hope.” John not only is a kind, hopeful person, but he also is a courageous and honorable person. Talking about his wounds John says, “I'm a little sorry I wasn't wounded in the front; it looks like a cowardly to be hit in the back.” Despite the immense pain John must be experiencing because he “must lie on his wounded back or suffocate”, John does not regret the placement of his wound because of the pain. Instead he feels “a little sorry because a wound in the back “looks cowardly”. Alcott conveys her experience, but also conveys her emotions. While reading ‘The Death of a Soldier’, one feels what she felt and sees what she saw. The reader has no choice but to sympathize with and care for the man who with his dying breath said, “tell them I did my best.”