A Mystery of Heroism

by Stephen Crane

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Student Question

Why does Collins seek well water in "A Mystery of Heroism"?

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A battle is raging around Fred Collins, and he wants a drink of water from the well in the middle of the battlefield.  When he brings up the idea of going to get some water, the other soldiers with him start teasing him and egging him on.  This puts pressure on Collins to be “heroic” and go get some water.  He asks permission from his commanding officer probably hoping that the officer will tell him, “no”.  Unfortunately for Collins, the officer tells him to go ahead and get some water despite it being a deadly mission.  Now, Collins is stuck.  If he doesn’t go, this fellow soldiers will say he is a coward; if he does go, he risks his own life.  Peer pressure forces Collins to run to the well, fill up a bucket of water, and run back to the other soldiers despite the bombs and bullets destroying everything in their path.  When Collins gets back to the men, they fight over the bucket of water, and it spills all over the ground.  Collins risks his life for a dare, and it turns out to be a ridiculous, futile attempt to appear heroic. 

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