An Episode of War by Stephen Crane: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:02 Unpredictability of War
  • 0:23 The Wound
  • 1:09 The Response of Fellow…
  • 2:31 Analysis
  • 3:07 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

'An Episode of War' by Stephen Crane is a short story describing the injury of a young lieutenant during war - from the moment the man was shot until he faced his family. This lesson takes a look at a brief summary and analysis of the story.

Unpredictability of War

In 'An Episode of War,' Stephen Crane captures the experience of a young lieutenant who is shot during war time at an unexpected moment. Through the telling of this experience, the author is able to portray multiple viewpoints of the horrors and unpredictability of war. In this lesson, we will summarize and analyze this short story.

The Wound

In the opening of this short story, we find the lieutenant surrounded by his corporals during what they thought was a moment of downtime during war. A lieutenant is the lowest grade of commissioned officer. A corporal is the fourth grade of non-commissioned officer. The lieutenant was simply dividing up the coffee rations among his men when suddenly, he cries out. The narrator writes, 'The others cried out also when they saw blood upon the lieutenant's sleeve.' Out of nowhere, a bullet came through the wood and landed in the lieutenant's right arm.

Unsure what to do, the officer grabs his sword with his left hand, but he is so confused by the scenario that he doesn't hold it correctly. He holds it in the middle of the blade instead of at the handle. When he realizes what he's doing, he tries to put it away, but is unable to sheath it.

The Response of Fellow Soldiers

The young corporals crowd around the officer as a 'wound gives strange dignity to him who bears it.' One of the men helps to put the sword away, but all are careful not to touch the lieutenant or his wound. Some men offer help the lieutenant to safety while others avoid him, almost as if they're afraid of him. As he moves towards the field hospital holding his arm, the lieutenant watches a battle in the distance: 'It was, for a wonder, precisely like an historical painting.' The lieutenant almost feels removed from what is happening around him.

The lieutenant passes by some stragglers that offer him directions and their opinions about each division and leader. One of the officers sees the lieutenant's arm and scolds him about the way it has been wrapped. The officer binds the wound with a handkerchief, while the lieutenant feels badly that 'he did not know how to be correctly wounded.'


When he arrives at the white hospital tent, he sees men all around him that seem so much worse off than he is. The doctor seems irritated that the wound was tied up the way it was. The doctor says, 'What mutton-head had tied it up that way anyhow?'

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