Explain which aspects of "An Episode of War" did you find particularly tragic or unsettling.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that the level of tragedy and unsettling reality rises to a particular point when the soldier is confronted with the reality of losing his arm.  There is something truly unsettling when the soldier protests to the doctor about how he does not want to have his arm amputated.  The unsettling nature of this moment comes in our collision between the valor and stoic stereotype of war and its agonizing reality.  This depiction of the soldier is one in which no harm can come to them.  They are almost "super human" in what they can do.  Yet, the reality of war is that soldiers are human.  In seeing the soldier plead against amputation when there is no other path highlights this collision and the results are unsettling.  The fact that the narrator simply and tersely describes this as “the story of how the lieutenant lost his arm" is even more unsettling.

There is a tragic tone from this point onwards.  When the soldier's loved ones weep in sight of the empty sleeve that used the represent his arm, one almost feels as if death would have been a more desirable alternative.  There is something horrific in the experience of war and tragic from the point of view of the soldier. The soldier "stands ashamed" and is filled with complexity of emotion.  This highlights the tragic condition of the soldier who fights in war. They return with a myriad of emotions and nuanced subjectivity within them.  The tears of the women who love him and the awkwardness of the moment is cut again with the almost unnerving banality of the entire "episode of war."  What is something so significant and so powerful is seen as simply a part of the war experience.  This is tragic in its purest form.

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An Episode of War

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