“Too, he wondered why he did not feel some keen agony of fear cutting his sense like a knife. He wondered at this because human expression had said loudly for centuries that men should feel afraid of certain things and that all men who did not feel this fear were phenomena, heroes. He was then a hero. He suffered that disappointment which we would all have if we discovered that we were ourselves capable of those deeds which we most admire in history and legend. This, then, was a hero. After all, heroes were not much.
No, it could not be true. He was not a hero. Heroes had no shames in their lives and, as for him, he remembered borrowing fifteen dollars from a friend and promising to pay it back the next day, and then avoiding that friend for ten months. When at home his mother had aroused him for early labor of his life on the farm, it had often been his fashion to be irritable, childish, diabolical, and his mother had died since he had come to the war. He saw that in this matter of the well, the canteens, the shells, he was an intruder in the lad of fine deeds (501).” Stephen Crane was a very prolific writer for his time period. He was a Naturalist who focused on the role of the environment in shaping a character and determining life.
Most of his writings dealt with “extreme environments,” such as the middle of a battle field. Such graphic scenes allow the reader to receive a glimpse into human nature that they otherwise might not experience. His short story, “A Mystery of Heroism,” deals with such an environment. This short story takes place on the front lines of a battlefield during the Civil War. Crane uses very vivid imagery of the battle field that one can almost imagine being there. In the story, the main character, Fred Collins, is egged on by his army colleagues to go fill their canteens with water from a bombed house’s abandoned well.
This is were Collins begins to wonder what makes a hero, and questions if his actions are heroic. Although Fred Collins is a simple man not free from flaws, it is these flaws that illustrates his humanity which enables him to become a hero. In Crane’s “A Mystery of Heroism,” the search of what is a hero is explored. During the course of the story, Collins, a union war solider in the Civil War, desires a drink of well water located across an active battlefield. Going against all his inhibitions and judgments, and going along with peer pressure, Collins decides to make the suicidal trip.
Remarkably, he gathers himself together because he knows that he has to come back a “victor.” When Collins begins his expedition, he feels as if he is out of place. He believes that he has no right being out in the middle of the battlefield. He finds it hard to believe that he got himself into this situation, but knows that he can not back out now. This leads to the beginning of the selected passage. At this point Collins is wondering why he does not “feel some keen agony of fear cutting his sense like a knife.” In this situation most people would begin to feel a sense of fear, as if they were about to die.
But Collins, on the other hand, is not having these feelings, and it concerns him. He wonders this because “human expression had said loudly for centuries that men should feel afraid of certain things and that all men who did not feel this fear were phenomena, heroes.” He does not see himself being able to placed in that caliber of man, a hero. He does not think that he is qualified for that title. Does running across a battlefield for a drink of water put him in the category of being courageous. Fred Collins evaluates his life at this point to disprove the title he loosely put upon himself: “No, it could not be true. He was not a hero.
Heroes had no shames in their lives.” Collins believes that he could not be a hero because he is not free of fault. For one to be considered a hero in his eyes, you can not be selfish, you would need to be genuinely good. Which he believes he is not. In his eyes he is full of fault and not genuinely good..