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In the midst of the horror that Crane depicts, I think that the struggle for the soldier to keep his arm is one of the most unsettling parts of the story. The opening of the soldier rationing out coffee to his soldiers and then ending with his protestations that he will not lose his arm, only to find the empty sleeve of his uniform flapping where his arm used to be is terribly unsettling. Crane is able to illuminate a condition of war that is vast in its scope, but specific in its horror.
The soldier has endured so much with his wound that it almost seems that redemption and unity would exist in having his would tended to and then returning to action. The soldier's protest to the doctor that he will not lose his arm is in vain, like so much of the solider's experience. The soldier fights war, wanting to live and repelling death. Yet, the only constant in war is death, and thus, like the lieutenant who protests, but does so in vain, so is the life of the soldier in war. This is unsettling and tragic. Such a condition is confirmed with the narrator's assessment of the situation: “the story of how the lieutenant lost his arm.” A most horrific condition of being is simply labeled as "an episode of war." The chilling banality with which the lieutenant's story is relayed helps to convey another aspect of its tragic state.
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