“Where in hell yeh goin’?” the lieutenant was asking in a sarcastic howl. And a red-bearded officer, whose voice of triple brass could plainly be heard, was commanding: “Shoot into ’em! Shoot into ’em, Gawd damn their souls!” There was a mêlée of screeches, in which the men were ordered to do conflicting and impossible things.

Such details as the “voice of triple brass” and “mêlée of screeches” contribute to the general sense of the disorienting bedlam on the battlefield. They are impressionistic in that they evoke a distinct feeling and mood but can be interpreted in various ways.

Using a slightly different tone in Chapter XXII, Crane issues a startlingly convincing portrayal of the graphic violence of battle, one that falls into the genre of realism rather than impressionism:

The orderly sergeant of the youth’s company was shot through the cheeks. Its supports being injured, his jaw hung afar down, disclosing in the wide cavern of his mouth a pulsing mass of blood and teeth. And with it all he made attempts to cry out. In his endeavor there was a dreadful earnestness, as if he conceived that one great shriek would make him well.

With his meticulous attention to gory detail, Crane paints a haunting picture. The inclusion of such details as the manner in which the sergeant’s jaw hangs down and the “pulsing mass of blood and teeth” resonates within the reader’s imagination, and is effective in part because of the journalistic objectivity in which it is narrated.

In Chapter XXI, the regiment’s new cohesion is far from total: Henry and Wilson are insulted by the derisive officer’s disparagement of their regiment, but pleased by the individual praise they have won from their own officers. Henry still places great stock in the opinions of others. While he seems, at some moments, to be coming into a new sense of inner security, at others he retains his old narcissistic vanity, as when he imagines that his own death would be the ultimate revenge on the derisive officer: “It was his idea, vaguely formed, that his corpse would be for those eyes a great and salt reproach.”

Henry’s belief that his death would be significant enough to affect an officer who does not even know his name and who probably does not have the inclination to mourn individual privates, reveals that he has not yet fully internalized the lessons of the first part of the novel. He has encountered hard truths about the indifference of the universe that have somewhat broadened his perspective. Nevertheless, he is still unable to accept the idea that his death would go largely unnoticed. It seems to him—as, Crane implies, it does to every individual—that his own perception is the measure of his existence, and that the end of the individual consciousness would be apocalyptic for the entire world. The fact that Henry’s growth is not complete should not, however, detract from it. Henry has grown considerably. For instance, when the soldiers report to him the colonel’s praise, Henry is able to celebrate his victory with “a secret glance of joy” toward Wilson, a stroke of modesty of which he would have been incapable at the beginning of the novel. It is a testament to the novel’s realism that such a profound and complex change in character is neither immediate or easy.