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Last Updated on August 27, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 360

"An Episode of War" is a war story by Stephen Crane. Crane does not stray from his typical writing style or topic; therefore, many of the themes from his famous novel The Red Badge of Courage could be applied to this story as well. The story describes a common event that occurred during the Civil War. An officer is wounded, makes his way to the medical tent, and ends up needing his arm amputated.

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Crane is a Naturalist writer, and he believes in nature's uncaring attitude toward the plight of humankind. This is something that can also be seen in his story "The Open Boat." In "An Episode of War," readers see this theme through the sense of fate that the story conveys. Human beings are trivial and generic. Their name and rank simply do not matter, and readers can see strong evidence of that triviality in the fact that characters do not even have names. The men fighting in the war are just pieces being moved around a set of events that they have no control over. Their desire to fight, win, and live does not matter. The soldier's deep desire to not have his arm amputated does not matter, either.

The doctor is one of the characters who recognizes the futility of fighting against a determined fate. This is why he doesn't show the lieutenant any special attention and doesn't attempt to save the arm. The surgeon could even be accused of being rude, but he doesn't care. He knows the end result can't be avoided.


While the lieutenant is not mortally wounded, readers do see evidence of death as he makes his way to the field hospital. Readers are also likely to understand that, in many ways, the lieutenant is lucky. He will survive. The bullet that struck his arm could have just as easily struck his chest or head.


The randomness of the bullet strike relates to another theme common with Crane: the idea that all humans are equal when it comes to their fate. The fact that the protagonist is an officer in no way protects him from being wounded and having his arm amputated.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 331

An essential antiwar message predominates in this sober tale, but Stephen Crane, going well beyond the ethos of combat, infuses it with ideas endemic to the nineteenth century cosmic view, that humanity is but a tiny mote in the universal scheme, an insignificant entity driven by the fates and the winds of haphazard chance. Humankind’s triviality is underscored by the characters not even having names; they are identified as types of people, generic manifestations caught in capriciously unfolding events they cannot control. The characters are unable to exercise freedom of the...

(The entire section contains 691 words.)

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