Like the colonel, the captain of Collins’s company is surprised by Collins’s request but does little to talk him out of it, merely asking him, ‘‘Can’t you wait?’’ Both the captain and the colonel are unsure whether Collins is really serious about his request.
Fred Collins is a Civil War infantryman on the field of battle. His unsophisticated speech (‘‘I bet there’s water in that there ol’ well yonder!’’) and simplistic view of what constitutes a hero indicate that he is just an ordinary country boy, no different than the other foot soldiers of the regiment. Collins is aware of being ordinary. When he briefly fancies himself a hero, he quickly dismisses the idea, listing reasons why it cannot be true and concluding that ‘‘he was an intruder in the land of fine deeds.’’ Crane only indirectly indicates which side of the Civil War conflict Collins is on; he looks toward his comrades and sees ‘‘the long blue line of the regiment,’’ indicating that Collins is a soldier for the Union, not the Confederacy.
Collins’s Fellow Soldiers
The fellow officers of Collins’s regiment play a key role in the story by goading Collins to act with their teasing and jibes. Clearly believing that Collins would never be foolish enough to attempt to cross the war-torn meadow, they repeatedly urge him to make the trip: ‘‘Well, if yeh want a drink so bad, why don’t yeh go git it?’’ Their speech reveals them to be from similar backgrounds as Collins himself. They are astonished when he actually decides to make the trip to the well: ‘‘‘I never thought Fred Collins had the blood in him for that kind of business,’’’ says one comrade. Two lieutenants of the regiment, engaging in the same sort of jesting that sent Collins on his mission in the first place, spill the hard-won contents of the water bucket at the end of the story.
The colonel of the regiment gives Collins permission to go to the well. Crane illustrates the colonel’s condescending nature by the way he talks to Collins: ‘‘Look here, my lad—Collins was not a lad—don’t you think that’s taking pretty big risks for a little drink of water.’’ The colonel makes only a token effort to discourage Collins from a potentially fatal (and unnecessary) excursion, showing that he views low-ranking officers like Collins as expendable.
Sara Constantakis, Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 28 (2010) – Stephen Crane – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.