The narrator, a young man fascinated by war, not in the sense of maneuvers devised by generals but the reality of war, the actual killing. To discover why soldiers kill, and under the influence of what feeling, he volunteers to accompany a Russian regiment on a raid into the Caucasian hills controlled by Tatar tribesmen. A thoughtful, sensitive man, the narrator wishes to grasp the meaning of bravery and discusses the issue with the captain of the regiment, whom he admires greatly. During the action, the narrator is able to observe men risking their lives for reasons of vanity, curiosity, and greed: The truly brave man is he who, like the captain, simply and quietly “does what he ought.” The narrator paints a portrait of war as often fascinating and gallant but as ultimately futile, vain, and destructive, with no clear or worthwhile goals achieved.
Captain Pavel Ivanovich Khlopov
Captain Pavel Ivanovich Khlopov (PAH-vehl ee-VAH-noh-vihch KHLOH-pov), a gray-haired, elderly captain, severely wounded four times over the course of long years of service in the Russian army. A quiet, brave, and unassuming man surrounded by vain and loud younger officers, the captain wears a very unmartial-looking shabby coat and smokes cheap tobacco. He writes his mother dutifully once a year and, to protect her,...
(The entire section is 544 words.)