In "An Episode of War" by Stephen Crane, what treatment does the doctor ultimately administer to the lieutenant's wounded arm?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The lieutenant ultimately has his arm amputated.

As in so many of Stephen Crane's works, the Naturalistic theme is strong in "An Episode of War" as the soldiers are depicted as just so many creatures manipulated by indifferent universal forces. In particular, the lieutenant who so precisely divides the coffee with his sword, a symbol of the authority that he believes he wields, catches a wild bullet in his arm, and with this random act his illusion of authority is ended.  His arm, then, becomes symbolic of his loss of authority, as he must hold his sword with his left hand, but is unable to replace it in its sheath without the aid of another soldier.

The lieutenant must now leave the battlefield and head to the low white tents of the field hospital. As he walks to the rear of the field,

[H]e wore the look of one who knows he is the victim of a terrible disease and understands his helplessness.

The illusion that he was in control of action and choice is now removed from him.

When he returns home with an empty sleeve in his coat, and his mother and sisters "sob[bed] for a long time at the sight," he stammers, "I don't suppose it matters so much as all that." For, he has come to understand that he is just one of many unremarkable creatures against the deterministic forces of life; his missing arm is but a reminder of this impotence as such a creature. 

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An Episode of War

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