A Mystery of Heroism

by Stephen Crane

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Student Question

What "heroic" task does Collins aim to perform in "A Mystery of Heroism"?

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Fred Collins in “A Mystery of Heroism” finds himself and his other soldiers pinned down by a battle raging around them.  Collins decides he is thirsty and sees a well in the middle of the battlefield.  In order to get some water to quench his thirst, he must weave his way through exploding shells and flying bullets.  He asks permission to go get some water from his commanding officer who says it is foolish but all right for Collins to attempt this dangerous “mission.”  Collins makes it to the well and begins to fill up his canteen.  He sees a bucket and decides to fill it up instead since it will hold more water.  Collin feels “untouchable” and heroic on his journey to the well, but realizes the danger he has put himself in for just a drink of water when he realizes he needs to return to his company.  His feelings of heroism turn to shame as he realizes the foolishness of his mission and that it is not worth risking his life.  As he runs to where the other soldiers are hidden, he passes a wounded officer who begs Collins for a drink of water.  Collins runs past him but returns to give the officer a drink.  When Collins gets back to his other soldiers, they start fighting over the bucket of water, and all the water spills to the ground.

Collin’s “heroic” run for water is ironic because it is not really a brave act; it is really a stupid thing for him to do.  Even though he risks his life to get the water, it isn’t worth it, and it is all in vain. 

Collins true heroic act was when he returns to the wounded officer and gives him a drink amidst the bombing and fighting of the war. 

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