Give two reasons why the lieutenant's comrades "look at him with large eyes thoughtfully" but will not touch him in "An Episode of War."

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

When the officer is shot, the other soldiers "look at him with large eyes thoughtfully" but will not touch the lieutenant who is hit with a stray bullet because the randomness with which this bullet has struck astounds them; furthermore, by being wounded, the lieutenant is transformed in the eyes of the soldiers. 

Because many of the soldiers had little practice firing guns, there were many stray shots—such as the one that hits the lieutenant. This one seems to have come from particularly far away.

The men sense a transformation as they look at the officer:

[A] wound gives a strange dignity to him who bears if the wounded man’s hand is upon the curtain which hangs before the revelations of all existence...and the power of it sheds radiance upon a bloody form.

Although the lieutenant has lost his power as a commander, he has become somehow spiritually powerful; he is endowed with "a terrible majesty" while he stands between life and death. He has gone from leader to spectator, and he has suddenly acquired wisdom: he perceives that war is accepted with indifference by nature. The battery resembles the "crash of waves on rocks"; the shooting resembles the sounds of bush-fires crackling and thunder rumbling through the air.

As he heads towards the medical tent, the lieutenant gains knowledge from his detached perspective upon the universal situation of war since he no longer is a part of this struggle of men. In actuality, the lieutenant has had no real control before his injury; he merely believed in an illusion of control and authority. After he returns home, his missing arm is a reminder of the impotence of man to shape an indifferent universe.

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In "An Episode of War," the lieutenant's comrades do not touch him because of the literal and symbolic nature of his injury.  

The literal injury that the lieutenant suffers is gruesome.  It makes him "helpless."  His comrades see its brutal nature and are taken aback.  The blood rushing through the open wound and absorbed by his shirt causes them to retreat.  Crane uses the literal nature of the injury to bring out the banal horror of war.  He displays how soldiers, exposed to the worst in human mortality every day, are still stunned when they see an injury of this magnitude in such close proximity.  They look with "large eyes" because of the surprise and shock in seeing the brutality of war in close range.

Crane also suggests that there is a symbolic reason the comrades don't touch the lieutenant.  In describing how a "wound gives strange dignity" to the soldier who experiences it, Crane argues that healthy soldiers "shy from this new and terrible majesty."  This would be another reason why the soldiers stare at the lieutenant, but do not touch him.  Crane asserts that "other men" view themselves as "little" when in the company of one who has been injured during war.  This sense of awed distance is another reason why the men don't touch the lieutenant, but rather look at him with "large eyes." 

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An Episode of War

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