A Mystery of Heroism

by Stephen Crane

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What are some metaphors in Stephen Crane's "A Mystery of Heroism"?

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In the first sentence, Crane employs a metaphor to describe the fighting between the two armies; he calls it "incessant wrestling." The armies, of course, are not actually wrestling, but this particular metaphor makes the fighting seem much more individual and personal. It sounds not like two big groups fighting each other over some cause but rather like one individual fighting another hand-to-hand and up close. Likewise, he describes "a battery . . . arguing in tremendous roars with some other guns." Again, this metaphor, describing gunfire as an argument, takes something happening on a large scale and reduces it to something small and personal. Later, the speaker describes a "curtain of green woods" behind a barn in the distance. This compares the appearance of the woods to something like a curtain of fabric, something that is made up of one piece and through which we cannot see. The woods must appear solid in this way. Later still, the speaker refers to the "red hate of the shells" being fired, apparently comparing their power and force to human hatred.

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There are certainly plenty of metaphors to choose from. You might want to think about the way in which Crane seems to liken men in combat to machines or animals, as in the death of the bugler that is referred to at the beginning of the story. Note how Crane does this, both in terms of the description of the men and in how the bugler dies:

As the eyes of half of the regiment swept in one machinelike movment, there was an instant's picture of a horse in a great convlusive leap of a death wound and a rider leaning back with a crooked arm and spread fingers before his face. On the ground was the crimson terror of an exploding shell, with fibres of flame that seemed like lances.

Note how the regiment are compared to robots with the implied metaphor of the movement of their eyes, which are described as moving in "one machinelike movement." Likewise, the picture of the bugler is depicted as not human, with a "crooked arm" dominating his appearance in the midst of the explosion. Also, we have the explosion of the shell compared to a "crimson terror."

Hope this helps to get you started. Now you can re-read the story and identify other metaphors that Crane uses. Good luck!

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