What is ironic about the doctor's reaction to the lieutenant's wounded arm in "An Episode of War"?

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bullgatortail's profile pic

bullgatortail | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

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I find it ironic that the doctor first greets the lieutenant in a friendly manner before realizing he is hurt and then shows contempt when he sees he is wounded. The busy doctor is apparently offended by the officer's intrusion, and he treats the wound as if it is a minor one. Additionally, he lies to the lieutenant when he assures him that the arm will not have to be amputated. The doctor warns him not to act like "a baby" and then leads him away to what he must know will be surgery to remove the arm.

samcestmoi's profile pic

samcestmoi | (Level 1) Associate Educator

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The surgeon is very dismissive of and unconcerned about the lieutenant’s wound, and seems irritated that the man has brought him more work to do. He treats the officer as though he is a child crying over a scraped knee, though the lieutenant is being very calm and unobtrusive about the whole situation. As the surgeon is directing the soldier to the hospital tents, “His voice contained the same scorn as if he were saying, ‘You will have to go to jail.’” Here is one sense of irony—a doctor treating an injury as if it were a criminal offense, and the injured as if he were guilty, rather than a victim. The greatest irony, however, comes when the lieutenant wonders placidly whether his arm will be amputated. The surgeon huffs contemptuously at this suggestion, and exclaims patronizingly, "Nonsense, man! Nonsense! Nonsense!...Come along, now. I won't amputate it. Come along. Don't be a baby." But, Crane notes shortly after, “this is the story of how the lieutenant lost his arm.”  The surgeon dismisses the officer’s wound and acts as though he were an ignorant child for even mentioning amputation, and yet amputation is the arm’s ultimate fate.

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