What differences might exist in the mood, events, or outcome of this story if it had been written by a romantic writer who believed in the harmony of humanity and nature? Please explain.

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jmj616 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Stephen Crane's "An Episode of War," a Civil War lieutenant is shot and wounded while he is engaged in the peaceful activity of dividing coffee into rations for his troops.  

Throughout the rest of the story, no one, including the Lieutenant himself, knows how to react to the incident or how to interpret it.

*"[The soldiers'] were fixed on the mystery of [the] bullet's journey.

*"Well men shy from this new and terrible majesty [of a wound]. It is as if the wounded man's hand is upon the curtain which hangs before the revelations of all existence--the meaning of ants, potentates, wars, cities, sunshine, snow, a feather dropped from a bird's wing; and the power of it sheds radiance upon a bloody form, and makes the other men understand sometimes that they are little."

*"[The Lieutenant]  wore the look of one who knows he is the victim of a terrible disease and understands his helplessness."

*"The lieutenant hung his head, feeling...that he did not know how to be correctly wounded."

The author's attitude is that mankind is very small and insignificant in the universe, and that we cannot hope to understand the events that seem to befall us randomly.  

By contrast, an author of the Romantic movement would have emphasized the the importance of the individual hero, including the importance of his inner thoughts, feelings, and dreams.  

In a Romantic version of "An Episode of War," the Lieutenant might have heroically revenged his wound.  At the least, he would have been inspired by his experience to reach a greater and clearer understanding of life.

In the hands of the pessimistic Stephen Crane, however, the Lieutenant's arm is amputated and he returns home, none the wiser for his unfortunate accident.

Read the study guide:
An Episode of War

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