Soldier's Heart

by Gary Paulsen
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How can I make a plot diagram for Soldier's Heart?

In the Great Depression, Charley Goddard signs up for the army to prove his manhood. His idealism is soon replaced by cynicism and bitterness as he witnesses death and suffering on a massive scale. "Crippled Sympathies" (2001) is an account of Paulsen's experience with a severely deformed child named Tyrus Raymond Cobb. The book was written as part of Paulsen's recovery from depression, following his hospitalization in June 1999. It documents the friendship between Paulsen and Cobb, who was born with severe deformities that hampered his movement and development.

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A plot diagram charts the course of a story. The diagram begins with the exposition. In the exposition , we are introduced to the setting, main characters, and the events that have led to the main conflict. The exposition may also include flashbacks, internal dialogue, or a recounting of...

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A plot diagram charts the course of a story. The diagram begins with the exposition. In the exposition, we are introduced to the setting, main characters, and the events that have led to the main conflict. The exposition may also include flashbacks, internal dialogue, or a recounting of events from the perspective of the narrator.

The exposition is followed by the rising action, climax, falling action, and the resolution. This is the basic structure of a plot diagram. Now, we can discuss Soldier's Heart.

1) Exposition

Here, we meet Charley Goddard and learn that he is fifteen. There is talk of war, and he wants to fight. His age, however, stands in the way. We also learn that Charley's father is deceased and that his family consists of himself, his mother, and his younger brother, Orren. To avoid being recognized, Charley signs up at Fort Snelling instead of Winona. He tells his mother that he will send most of his pay home to her and Orren.

So, in the exposition, we learn why Charley is going off to war: he thinks that he is ready to be a man, and he is going to prove it by signing up to fight. The exposition lays the foundation for the main conflict in the novel: man versus self, where our protagonist must decide how to define manhood and his place in the issues of his time.

2) Rising Action

The rising action involves a series of battles. In each successive battle, Charley becomes more and more disillusioned with war. He comes to realize that war is bloody, merciless, and ugly. His first battle is at Bull Run (which is also called the Battle for Manassas Junction), and he is devastated by what he experiences.

Charley recognizes men from his hometown; he sees them die in agony, and he is sickened by the sight of the corpses. Also, he discovers that shooting his fellow Americans is harder than he thinks. Meanwhile, the Rebels/Confederates are better prepared than what he has been led to believe.

Charley fights a few more battles and begins to fear that he will die on the battlefield. To allay this fear, he fights ferociously and focuses on personal survival. Later, he helps Nelson (a young soldier) commit suicide after the latter sustains a fatal stomach wound. The experience changes Charley, and he begins to realize that war is no respecter of people. Additionally, it becomes obvious to him that it is "every man for himself" when it comes to personal comforts. The rising action leads us to the climax.

3) Climax

In the novel, the series of successive battles culminate in the explosive Battle of Gettysburg. This is the climax of the story, and it results in Charley sustaining grave injuries. We are led to wonder whether Charley will survive his wounds. Interestingly, the Gettysburg chapter is the penultimate (second-to-last) chapter of the book.

4) Falling Action and resolution

In the last chapter, Charley is back home in Winona. So, we know that he survived his injuries. As he makes his way down to the river for a picnic, he reminisces about the past. He thinks about the time before the war, when he still believed in the glory of battle. Now, he is twenty-one years old and in constant pain. He passes blood in his stool and knows that it won't be long before he dies.

The story concludes with Charley examining a Confederate pistol. He tries not to think about the fact that he had to kill to appropriate the pistol for himself. Charley notes the popularity of these pistols in the North. Yet, he wonders whether the average citizen really understands what a man has to do to secure such a pistol.

Paulsen doesn't tell us whether Charley commits suicide. In the author's note, however, Paulsen reveals that the real Charley Goddard died not long after the war at the age of twenty-three. Charley's wounds and mental anguish destroyed him at the apex of his youth.

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