The lieutenant is unaware of how to react both to his injury and others' reaction to it. He is emotionally unclear as to what should be displayed. The lieutenant believes that he must display a sense of strength and valor in battling his injury. Yet, he also understands how helpless he is. It is because of this condition that he cannot fully formulate a clear and distinct reaction to the other soldier who helps him. For his part, the soldier who offers advice does not display a clear reaction to the injury. He "scolds" the lieutenant for his injury and failing to address it. Then, he seeks to assist the lieutenant and does not effectively help the situation. The handkerchief that is tied is done so awkwardly in an "amateurish" manner. This awkward condition is what dominates the lieutenant's reaction to his injury and his reaction to others. The lieutenant's lack of clarity in displaying an appropriate emotional response is evident in how embarrassed he is by the care shown to him and in his own condition. He feels "strangely apologetic."
Crane uses this exchange to show how soldiers, bred to fight and to believe in their own sense of superiority, are displaced by the human condition that inexorably grabs a hold of them in the condition of war. The solider is human. Yet, he is unable to understand an effective human reaction to what he experiences. It is for this reason that his reaction to the soldier who offers him help is unclear and muddled. This same murkiness is what is displayed when his mother, wife, and sister sob at his condition when he comes home. The only clarity present in such a condition is emotional murkiness and a sense of inescapable pain.