The Upturned Face

by Stephen Crane
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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 272

As two soldiers contemplate the body of a dead comrade, lying on the battlefield at their feet, its face turned toward the sky, the adjutant asks Lieutenant Timothy Lean, “What will we do now?” Lean decides that the body must be buried and calls two enlisted men to dig a grave. Meanwhile, the adjutant and Lean decide that the clothes of the dead man must be searched, and the task falls to Lean. Hesitant to touch the corpse, he shakily completes the chore. As the grave is being dug and the search is being performed, enemy bullets fly overhead. Finally, the two enlisted men finish their hastily dug and shallow grave. The adjutant and Lean stand almost unsure of what to do next. They decide it would be proper if they put their fallen comrade into the grave themselves rather than order the enlisted men to do it. They are careful to avoid touching the body itself as they position the corpse in the grave.

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Lean remembers part of a burial service and begins it. The adjutant lamely adds a word or two that he recalls. After Lean abruptly orders the two privates to begin filling in the grave, rifle fire from sharpshooters hits one of them in the arm. Both men are sent back to their lines, so Lean, almost feverishly, fills in the grave himself. Finally, all that is left of their fallen companion is his chalk-blue upturned face. Fighting off his sense of horror, Lean takes a shovelful of dirt and swings it toward the grave. The dirt makes a plopping sound as it lands, and the story ends.

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