Stephen Crane described his novel of the American Civil War as a "psychological portrait of fear." Although he never experienced the horror of battle himself, Crane based his realistic narrative largely on stories told by Civil War veterans.
While those accounts tended to focus on the external action of warfare, the young newspaper reporter aspired to illustrate the internal experience of the soldier.
In a sense, modern American fiction begins with Crane's masterful, impressionistic depiction of Private Henry Fleming under fire.
Mary Reichardt is Professor of Catholic Studies at the University of St. She received a Ph D in literature from the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Chapter 5 brings the first real shift in Henry's character.
It is the first day of the first battle for Henry and his regiment.The fact that Henry, ironically, sustained a head wound from another soldier also running from the front line is known only to Henry and to the reader.In this way Crane brings the reader into Henry's mind and allows the reader to speculate regarding just how Henry will explain what has happened to him.Henry stands his ground and fires, forgetting his fears and doubts about his performance.The reader wonders if Henry has crossed the line from youth to man as a result of his first battle.The answer to this question comes in Chapter 6, when Henry experiences another character shift.In Chapter 6, the enemy troops immediately regroup to begin another charge.The omniscient point of view used by Crane comes into play as Crane tells the reader how the other soldiers react to the wound — the reader and Henry being the only observers having knowledge of how he sustained the injury.Recovery from the head injury buys Henry a little time to consider if he can tell what really happened to him.Henry's isolation allows Crane to focus on Henry's mental transition throughout the book; rarely does the story diverge from Henry's thoughts or actions.In Chapters 3 and 4, Crane uses rumors to play on Henry's fears and doubts.