Soldier's Heart

by Gary Paulsen
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How does Charley respond emotionally to the violence all around him at Bull Run in "Solider's Heart"?

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Charley responds to the horrors around him with complete disbelief.  "This can't be", he thinks, "I don't know person is supposed to see this".  Nothing has prepared him for what is happening before his eyes; it is beyond his comprehension.  Even while his mind is in complete turmoil, however, his body performs, seemingly without his willing it to.  So complete has been his training that, when he is ordered to "fall good order", Charley's arms somehow "(work) to push him off the ground", and he begins walking as he has been told, and when he sees the others crouching as they move, he finds himself doing the same thing.  In the midst of battle, when his emotions can no longer handle the chaos around him, training and peer influence take over, and Charlie automatically both follows orders and does what everyone else is doing:

"Training must work, he thought.  I'm doing all this without meaning to do it.  He felt like a stranger to himself, like another person watching..."

This disassociation between thought and action progresses, and Charley's feelings become anesthetized. He is only able to continue fighting because a kind of apathy takes over.  In a dull haze, Charlie accepts, and even longs for, his own death (Chapter 4).


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