Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In this story of compulsion, Lawrence creates a mood of nearly intolerable tension, broken at last, suddenly and elegiacally, at the conclusion. He sustains this mood, at least in part, by symbolic use of three repeated words: neck (or throat), dryness (or thirst), and the color red (contrasted at times with black or green). The three symbols are presented together in the first section, when the orderly drinks a bottle of red wine, some of which spills on the tablecloth. Gazing with hatred at this innocent act, the captain subconsciously identifies the wine with blood, the neck and throat of the young man with erotic tenderness. Later, in part 2, the captain’s repressed sexuality is symbolized by the dryness of his own throat, which Lawrence describes as “parched.” While Schoner watches the captain drink, in a reversal of the earlier scene, his mind snaps, his repressions explode into furious action, and he springs for the older man’s throat.

Finally, in part 3, the horror of the soldier’s panic is represented by his own parched throat, “thirst burning in his brain.” The glistening, green corn that he views (contrasted against the image of a woman with a black cloth on her head) represents his decline into madness. Lawrence’s symbolism for green in this context is not, as is common in other writers (or, for Lawrence, in other contexts), luxuriant growth or vitality, but irrationality and terror (as in Vincent van Gogh’s green billiard table in The Night Café, 1888). In the final scene, the three dominant symbols come together. Schoner is discovered desiccated, “his black hair giving off heat under the sun.” His mouth is open, but not red with the promise of life; instead it is open (dry) and black. Through these persistent symbols, operating powerfully below the level of awareness, Lawrence unifies the conflicting emotions of the story and concentrates them with great force.

The Prussian Officer

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

The primary characters are a Prussian cavalry officer conducting his men on maneuvers and his young orderly. The officer is a haughty, self-disciplined aristocrat, frustrated both in love and in his career. The orderly, Schoner, is a peasant with an easy, natural grace.

The officer is profoundly affected by the warm animal spirits of the orderly, but his personal code requires that he deny these feelings. Soon he comes to hate Schoner and to harass and arbitrarily restrain him. The orderly himself begins to feel an unaccustomed anger toward the officer.

Eventually the officer becomes so enraged at the orderly that he savagely beats him. This action destroys the young man’s sense of wholeness and awakens in him a murderous desire that leads inevitably to the death of both men.

This story portrays the destruction of man’s instincts by an overemphasis on his rational, conscious nature. Schoner reacts to life directly, at an instinctual level, while the officer has suppressed all of his emotions in compliance with his aristocratic and military station. As a result, he is an isolated figure with no close ties and stands in contrast to the orderly, who feels a oneness with all things.