Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.
Great and terrible sounds saturate much of the novel. The book opens with soldiers chattering, gossiping, and arguing about when and if they will see action on the battlefield. Soon enough, the pop of gunfire and exploding artillery drown out their conversations. The reader comes to associate these sounds with boys, battle—both physical and mental—and bravado. Wilson, who often airs his opinions indignantly, embodies these associations early in the novel when Crane refers to him almost exclusively as “the loud soldier.” The transformation of Wilson and Henry into men of quiet resolve marks a process of maturation, wherein a peaceful disposition wins out over an unquiet one and the security of feeling courage internally silences the need for public recognition.
Although the novel spans no more than a few weeks, the reader witnesses a profound change in the characters of both Henry and Wilson. Though these men do not grow considerably older during the course of the narrative, one can best describe the psychological development that the novel charts for them as the passage from youth into maturity. Innocence gives way to experience, and the unfounded beliefs of boys make way for the quietly assured, bedrock convictions of men.