An Episode of War by Stephen Crane

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Summary

"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

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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,...

(The entire section is 947 words.)