Analysis

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Last Updated on August 27, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 509

"An Episode of War" is the story is of an unnamed lieutenant's wounding in a battle during the Civil War. Crane's purpose, however, is to try to convey the reality of war in all its randomness. While historical accounts of battles tend to organize events into a coherent narrative, the lieutenant's experience captured here is anything but coherent.

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Crane's method is to concentrate on detail and explain what happens as it happens to the lieutenant. This is not the same as telling the story from the lieutenant's point of view, however. Readers see things through the lieutenant's eyes, but the narrator does little more than describe what the lieutenant is experiencing.

For instance, the story begins with the lieutenant expertly dividing coffee into equal portions with his sword. This activity completely absorbs him (he is "on the verge of a great triumph in mathematics") when he is shot in the arm. It is not immediately clear what has happened; the lieutenant first thinks "it is a case of personal assault," as if someone standing next to him has hurt him. He sways as if about to fall down, hears with great clarity the sound of his horse breathing, and finally sees a wood "where now were many little puffs of white smoke." The connection between what has happened to him and those puffs of smoke is not immediately obvious. His contemplation of "the mystery of a bullet's journey" is also a contemplation of the randomness of fate, which has placed him, at that particular moment, in the path of that particular bullet.

Crane's attention to external experience continues with his minute description of the lieutenant's attempt to sheath his sword with his left hand. The intentness with which he tries to accomplish this feat underlines his disassociation from reality. The sword seems fantastic to him:

He looked at it in a kind of stupefaction, as if he had been miraculously endowed with a trident, a sceptre, or a spade.

He experiences similar moments in his journey to the field hospital. We are shown the things he sees: a general and his orderly, looking for a moment "precisely like a historical painting"; the workings of a battery of guns; and a group of stragglers whose knowledge of the battle seems incredibly comprehensive.

The story concludes with the lieutenant's encounter with a doctor who seems to have a disdain for his wound (causing the lieutenant to feel "as if he did not know how to be wounded correctly"). The amputation of the lieutenant's arm, even after the doctor's assurance that it would not be amputated, underscores the central irrationality of this experience—in which a "puff of smoke" could cause the "flat sleeve" the lieutenant's wife sobs over upon his return home. This "story" of how he lost his arm is hardly a story at all. The lieutenant's final remark that "I don’t suppose it matters so much as all that” underscores both the pointlessness of the battle and the inherent dishonesty of trying to make sense of the irrational.

Style and Technique

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 267

With admirable, conscious artistry, Crane brought to his episode a confluence of literary impressionism and symbolism, a major triumph revealed in the abject anonymity of all of his characters. These human theory representations are fused into hectic actions that roll across a continuously exploding landscape roiling with menace and motion. The language is unremitting in its bleak, suggestive violence: “the slant of glistening guns,” the “maniacal horses,” the shooting that “crackled like bush fires.” Within and against the colliding forces that reverberated with thunder and suffocated under rolling smoke is the solitary, wandering, wounded lieutenant, delicately holding his fragile, bleeding arm as if...

(The entire section contains 937 words.)

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