What is the symbolism in "A Mystery of Heroism"?
The most important piece of symbolism in this short story is of course the bucket of water that Collins risks life and limb to go and fetch. Of course, on the one hand, the bucket represents the heroism that he displays by taking such a massive risk to get water for the men. On the other hand, as the fate of the bucket of water shows, it also highlights the utter pointlessness and futility of war:
Suddenly there was an oath, the thud of wood on the ground, and a swift murmur of astonishment among the ranks. The two lieutenants glared at each other. The bucket lay on the ground empty.
Collins risks his life in order to get water, but the fate of that bucket of water shows just how little the lives of soldiers such as Collins were valued. The description of the shells exploding around Collins reveals that whether he lives or dies is down more to luck than any individual skill or bravery. In the same way, the symbol of his heroism is treated with contempt, just as his life is shown to matter little to those in power. Symbolically therefore the bucket is very important to signal the true message about war and the fluid meaning of bravery: it demonstrates how heroism is only a term that men create rather than a characteristic.