A Horseman in the Sky

Themes and Colors
Duty, Morality, and Justice Theme Icon
Sons vs. Fathers Theme Icon
The Horrors of the Civil War Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Horseman in the Sky, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

In “A Horseman in the Sky,” Ambrose Bierce conceals the full scope of the story’s moral dilemma until the story’s final pages: the conflict between duty and family unique to the American Civil War. The protagonist, a young soldier in the Union Army named Carter Druse, has been posted as a sentry to protect his comrades and keep their whereabouts hidden. The horseman, an enemy officer later revealed to be Druse’s father

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Before the Civil War, Bierce implies that Carter Druse has led a wealthy and privileged young life under the shelter of his parents. In joining the Union army, he both physically and ideologically steps away from the domain of his father to assert his independence and discover who he truly is. Despite their diverging paths, however, Bierce describes both Druse and his father as loving and respecting each other. The tension is not born of…

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Bierce’s telling of the Civil War is justifiably cynical. Although he never explicitly names the unique horrors of the Civil War, they form the background and unspoken context of the story. As exemplified by the tragedy of Carter Druse being forced to kill his own father for the sake of noble duty, the nature of the war confounded people’s compassion, ethics, sense of morality, and even ties to friends and family. Bierce eliminates any notion…

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