A Mystery of Heroism

by Stephen Crane

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What are examples of personification in "A Mystery of Heroism"?

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By using personification, Stephen Crane gives agency to the war overall and to the battles in particular. By writing as if the events are playing human roles or have human feelings, Crane makes it seem that the human beings are not directing the operations but instead are at the mercy of impersonal forces and inanimate objects.

In one place Crane describes the “demeanors” of the artillery.

The guns, with their demeanors of stolidity and courage, were typical of something infinitely selfpossessed….

As the onslaught accelerates, the shells strike a meadow below. The author says the meadow is “suffering” and, using understatement, is no longer “calm.”

the little meadow which intervened was now suffering a terrible onslaught of shells. Its green and beautiful calm had vanished utterly.

The bombing continues to worsen, and men and buildings are being hit everywhere. Crane now personifies the entire situation, also ironically calling this disastrous situation an “angel" which glances at the battery, or row of weapons.

The angel of calamity had under its glance the battery upon the hill…. A shell had smitten one of the pieces [guns] and after the flare, the smoke, the dust, the wrath of this blow was gone, the men’s white-stockinged legs were visible laying on the ground.

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Personification is a literary tool that gives non-human things (objects, ideas, animals, etc.) human attributes. In other words, the non-human objects are presented in a way that suggests to readers that the objects have the ability to act human. Crane uses personification throughout this novel. An early example occurs when the narrator tells readers that the armies were "wrestling." Armies can't do that. People can wrestle. Then the narrator goes on to tell us that the artillery batteries were arguing with each other:

On the top of the hill a battery was arguing in tremendous roars with some other guns and to the eye of the infantry, the artillerymen, the guns, the caissons, the horses, were distinctly outlined upon the blue sky.

A bit later, readers are told about an officer who is riding a "sober and reflective" horse. Horses are indeed living creatures; however, they cannot be sober and reflective. That is something humans are capable of.

A lieutenant of the battery rode down and passed them, holding his right arm carefully in his left hand. And it was as if this arm was not at all a part of him, but belonged to another man. His sober and reflective charger went slowly.

A few paragraphs later we are then told about a suffering meadow and the artillery shells that hate the meadow. The artillery shells are an especially good example of personification because they are definitely not living; therefore, they are definitely not capable of an emotion.

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There are numerous examples of personification in Stephen Crane’s short story “A Mystery of Heroism.” Personification is a literary technique used by an author to give human qualities or emotions to non-human or inanimate objects. The objective is to provide vivid, relatable imagery to the reader.

In Stephen Crane’s war story, he uses personification to add to the sights and sounds of the battlefield. He states, “On the top of the hill a battery was arguing in tremendous roars with some other guns, and …” The battery of guns is said to be “arguing” which gives the reader the image of the back and forth nature of the loud battle.

Another instance of personification is, “For the little meadow which intervened was now suffering a terrible onslaught of shells.” Crane personifies the meadow by saying it was “suffering.” The active battle moves into the meadow which shows the wear and tear of the action. In addition, he personifies the “blades of grass,” saying, “And there was a massacre of the young blades of grass,” instead of simply saying that the grass on the battle was destroyed. This give the reader a complete image of the destruction the battle caused.

As you continue reading the story, you will find more examples of personification which will add to the reader’s experience of the battle and its surroundings.

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