Summary

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on August 27, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 396

"An Episode of War" begins with a nameless lieutenant rationing out coffee to his soldiers. In the middle of his actions, the officer cries out in pain. He initially thinks that a soldier next to him hit his arm or something similar. The other soldiers are also curious as to...

(The entire section contains 947 words.)

Unlock This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this An Episode of War study guide. You'll get access to all of the An Episode of War content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

  • Summary
  • Themes
  • Characters
  • Analysis
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

"An Episode of War" begins with a nameless lieutenant rationing out coffee to his soldiers. In the middle of his actions, the officer cries out in pain. He initially thinks that a soldier next to him hit his arm or something similar. The other soldiers are also curious as to why the officer cried out, but then they see the blood dripping from his arm. The officer then takes a moment to stare out into the woods. We are told he is contemplating the bullet's journey from the forest to his arm. He next makes an awkward attempt to sheath his sword. He is unable to do that, so a nearby sergeant does it for him.

The lieutenant then turns and begins making his way to the medical tent. As he makes his way through the army, he witnesses all kinds of army actions of various units. He witnesses riflemen and artillerymen going about their frantic business. He comes across other wounded soldiers that tell him exactly where to find the hospital, and the officer is amazed at these men.

The lieutenant, carrying his wounded arm rearward, looked upon them with wonder.

Other officers approach him to ask him details about what is happening, but the lieutenant doesn't know the answers to their questions. One of these random officers eventually notices the wounded arm, and he angrily puts a better field dressing on it. The entire time that he is bandaging the arm, he is insulting the lieutenant to the point that he doesn't feel that he is properly wounded.

The lieutenant eventually gets to the hospital and is greeted by a friendly doctor. The doctor's demeanor immediately changes upon seeing the wounded arm. He angrily comments on the inferior bandaging, and he then sweet-talks the lieutenant into coming with him. The officer fears that the doctor is going to amputate the arm, and the doctor convincingly lies that it won't happen. The story ends with the lieutenant's family seeing him come home with a folded-up sleeve where his arm used to be.

And this is the story of how the lieutenant lost his arm. When he reached home, his sisters, his mother, his wife sobbed for a long time at the sight of the flat sleeve. "Oh, well," he said, standing shamefaced amid these tears, "I don't suppose it matters so much as all that."

Summary

Download PDF Print Page Citation Share Link

Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 551

An army lieutenant concentrates on rationing out his company’s supply of coffee, meticulously dividing the brown squares before him, when a shot rings out. The enlisted men, startled by the noise, suddenly see blood saturating their lieutenant’s sleeve. In pain, the wounded officer sways, winces in disbelief, mutely surveys the forest, and tries instinctively and clumsily to sheathe the sword that he has been using to count out the coffee packets. His mind swirls with mysterious revelations about existence and the meaning of life. As his dumbstruck, sympathetic troops try haltingly and timidly to assist him, he realizes his helplessness. He desperately holds his right wrist with his left hand. Silently and mournfully, he leaves the field to seek medical attention. His dark journey begins.

The lieutenant’s wandering quest takes him through scenes of wartime horror: An aide gallops to a general, salutes, and presents his commander a vital message; batteries sweep in majestic, frightening curves bent on destruction; and horsemen curse and shout amid a chaos of levers, motors, and wheels. This chorus of war is ferocious and emotional with dramatic passion. A beautiful unity seems to hover over these fields of mindless destruction and sudden death. The lieutenant comes on a group of stragglers who are insensately trudging his path, all excitedly caught up in the drama; he encounters a roadside brigade making coffee—the pedestrian task in which he had been involved before his wounding—and buzzing with talk like girls at boarding school, as if war were simply an adventure. A solicitous officer, observing the lieutenant’s bloody arm, scolds him to fix it and kindly, though amateurishly, binds the wound with his own handkerchief. The lieutenant is embarrassed both by his shattered arm and by the gesture of concern. He feels strangely apologetic. He has not yet mastered the proper etiquette for behaving as a wounded soldier, but believes there is some proper ritual to be followed when one is no longer a complete human being.

At last the lieutenant arrives at the low, white tents of a makeshift hospital, a former school now surrounded by moaning and dying soldiers. A busy surgeon passes by and greets the lieutenant in a friendly way, but his considerate demeanor disappears, even approaches contempt, when he spies the wounded arm. He brusquely orders the lieutenant to come along. Suddenly fearful and overwhelmed by panic, the lieutenant cries out that he will not allow his arm to be amputated; he tries to draw away. The surgeon seductively cajoles him, insisting that he will not amputate it. The lieutenant is far from reassured, but is not strong enough to resist. He proceeds reluctantly, suspicious and terrified, toward the doors of the field hospital that assume the appearance of the portals of death. The narrator then simply states that this was “the story of how the lieutenant lost his arm.”

After some time has passed, the lieutenant’s sisters, mother, and wife sob at the sight of his empty, flat sleeve. He stands ashamed before them, minimizing his disability, still not certain of the proper etiquette for behavior of the wounded. It was nothing, however, merely an ordinary experience shared by many soldiers who are doomed thereby to a lifetime of remembrance and suffering, just “an episode of war.”

Illustration of PDF document

Download An Episode of War Study Guide

Subscribe Now
Next

Themes