Review of Soldier's Heart by Gary Paulsen
Paulsen, Gary. 1998. Soldier’s Heart: Being the Story of the Enlistment and Due Service of the Boy Charley Goddard in the First Minnesota Volunteers. New York: Scholastic. ISBN 0-439-10991-4.
Charley Goddard is a good boy; his widowed mother’s older son. He doesn’t believe in cussing or coffee drinking when he enlists in the First Minnesota Volunteers in June 1861. He’s only 15, so he has to be careful to avoid anyone who knows he isn’t the 18 he claims. Charley doesn’t know what the war is about except Southern stubbornness, but he doesn’t want the army to make him a drummer boy. He’s never been more than five miles from home, let alone cheered. When he gets his first sight of Rebs in Maryland, he’s shocked at their poverty. Surely the war can’t last more than a few months!
The grand adventure starts at Bull Run, with Congressmen having a picnic. After crossing one meadow under fire, though, Charley has begun his journey to being a hardened veteran—even to replacements that day. With each battle, Charley withdraws into himself more and more. He doesn’t bother to get to know new men. He spends all his time cleaning his rifle and keeping his feet healthy. In a battle, Charley fights like a demon. Yet he has also become convinced he’ll be killed. In the fourth battle detailed, Gettysburg, Charley is wounded and apparently sent home. Now 19 years old, Charley’s outer wounds don’t heal, but his inner wounds are even deeper--called "soldier's heart," which the foreword tells us will later be called shell shock, battle fatigue, and post-traumatic stress disorder by successive wars.
3. Critical Analysis
The first sentence of the book (in the Foreword) is “War is always, in all ways, appalling.” Though “the vast majority of soldiers who go to war do survive [what] they have seen and been forced to do is frequently so horrific and devastating that it simply cannot be tolerated by the human psyche.” In the first two chapters, though, we see Charley Goddard as the good son he was originally.
“It was better than a circus” is the way Charley describes all the enlistment recruiting in the first chapter. Mr. Paulsen details Charley talking his widowed mother into allowing him to go off to war: “You can use the money” he says and adds “You’ve said it more than once yourself. Charley, you said, you’ve got to be a man.” As I read, I was reminded of the opening of the old movie, All Quiet on the Western Front when the school boy tells his mother and father. The mother cries; the father is proud.
Yet, the first chapter ends with Charley commenting as he walks down to road, “Nobody thought it would be so bad. Nobody thought it could be so bad.” At this point in the story, young readers must find this an odd foreshadowing. Mr. Paulsen makes us wait another whole chapter to begin to know the bad we are again warned is coming.
In chapter two, Charley decides the army is “a lot of playacting” and boring. The food is bad; they don’t even have proper uniforms. However, marching to the steamboat with pretty girls waving flags for him and handing him sweets is “a simply grand way to go off to fight a war.” The train ride from Minnesota to Maryland was a new and luxurious experience that Charley says he would remember forever. This will be the last time that Charley comments about those in charge not knowing what they’re doing. He simply stops bothering to gripe about what he cannot change.
For those raised on the idea that the Civil War was about abolishing slavery, Charley’s reaction to first seeing “coloreds” may be a shock: “‘it must be strange to own a person … He’d never considered it before and wondered what would happen after the war” [to the slaves]. Charley is planning to write his family that he’s become a man as he falls asleep to the rocking of the train. This peace sets us up for the first battle.
The first sentence of the next chapter (“Bull Run”) begins abruptly with Charley screaming at bullets flying past him “with evil little snaps and snickers.” All through the battle scenes, Mr. Paulsen used fresh words to convey powerful sights or sounds. He described Charley seeing the first fellow soldier being killed as “Next to him Massey’s head suddenly left his body and disappeared.” We are told the soldier’s name. We are also told what happened in a surreal and matter-of-fact way, as if a human head can simply get up and walk off. Mr. Paulsen doesn’t try to explain the unexplainable with something as logical as “Massey’s head was blown off his body by a cannon ball.” We feel the incredulous.
Lieutenant Olafson is the next casualty. He has a name when he is telling Charley to fall back in good order. Then he is hit in the chest and head. Now Charley describes “legs still moving, still pumping, still pushing the dying body around and around on the ground.” Charley follows the example of other men and crouches as he retreats. He vomits “until he felt his very soul would leave him.” It’s the last time Charley will vomit from revulsion. We see that he is learning fast how to survive war.
In chapter five, the night of Bull Run, officers no longer have names—or even ranks. “Later he would know things about fighting” (page 32) like what silence just before a battle meant. This will be his last time to be afraid before lining up, the only time he’d wet his pants or be ashamed to do so. He saw older males wet their pants, too, and he saw yesterday’s dead, all looking alike. Charley’s soul is becoming numb.
In chapter six, other soldiers dream, hope, and even pray that they will never again fight. “Charley was not among them. [He] believed in the inevitability of battle and most of all believed in the absolute certainly of his own death …[in] the next battle or the one after that” (page 43). He kept his equipment clean and his eyes open for fruit or livestock to “farm” (steal) and eat. The Charley who feared profane thoughts infecting his soul (page 20) is gone. Charley doesn’t even try to tell the new man Nelson about walking across battlefields and surviving. “There was too much, a world too much to say. … You had to live it.” So Charley just shakes his head and walks away to find cartridges.
In Charley’s second battle he hears the Rebel Yell for the first time, but is frightened only a moment. We had been told the Minnesota regiment was gaining a reputation for being “cool under fire” and Mr. Paulsen describes what this means. “But everything had to be compared” and the yell was nothing compared to the first day, the first battle. Charley bits a cartridge without taking his eyes off the Rebels. He reloads and fires low four times before running at the confused Confederate line. (Note page 49 is the first time “Confederate” was used instead of “Rebel.”) “Where’s your yell now? Charley thought, and then realized that he was screaming it. ‘Where’s your damned yell now?’” This is the first time Charley has cursed—and the first time he was “out of himself” wanting to kill.
The second battle ends with Charley helping the stomach-shot Nelson commit suicide. “It was strange, he thought, the crying. I didn’t rightly know him—still don’t know his first name—and here I am crying. With all the men I’ve seen drop…” Mr. Paulsen does not explain why Charley was crying. He simply leaves us with the paradox of Charley’s murderous rage and his crying over a relative stranger. As with all good historical fiction, Mr. Paulsen has given accurate details about dysentery and “belly wounds.” He has allowed us to uncover the deepening trauma in Charley’s soul. As with the end of the first battle, Mr. Paulsen concludes with simply “Second battle” (not even a complete sentence) as if there’s no need to embellish. It is probably the Second Battle of Bull Run/Manassas.
Chapter seven is entitled “Town Life.” Charley comments on Generals McClellan and Grant, but like “most of the men, he worked at taking care of himself.” Charley cares about latrines, dysentery and diarrhea, and bad food. It’s obvious it’s “every man for himself. … He pulled his own weight … but made a private world for himself … most of all tending to his feet and his rifle. … He did not like to look at people as much as we once did. … They died so fast” (page 65). These details help us see that Charley is slipping away from the boy his mother knew.
Charley did look at the Reb on the other side of the river during night duty when he traded coffee for tobacco. We are simply told that the Reb looked even younger than Charley, his feet were wrapped in sacks, and his coat was tattered and worn. Since Charley wanted the tobacco to trade for leather to fix his shoes, we can guess Charley isn’t dressed much better. The boy doesn’t know where Minnesota is; we wonder if Charley knows where Alabama is. Two boys. Both farmers. Both told to shoot at each other. It is stupid!
This exchange also precedes Charley commenting that he always felt alone now, even with men packed all around him. The only emotion left to Charley is anger at being ordered to slaughter Confederate cavalry horses to feed sick Union soldiers. It “put him on the edge of mutiny. He had been raised with workhorses and had come to love them. …watching them drop as they were shot in the head—made him almost physically ill” (page 73). This was just before the third battle, in winter, when Charley faces cavalry instead of infantry. “He didn’t fret the men at all. They were going to kill him and he didn’t mind killing them first. But he hated shooting the horses.” (page 78)
The third battle continues into the darkness (“murk”) and Charley has to put his foot on the Reb’s chest to jerk his bayonet loose. “After that there was no order, no sense, no plan. Charley became a madman. He attached anything and everything that came into his range … always screaming in fear, in anger and finally in a kind of rabid, insane joy … the job of killing to live.” Mr. Paulsen doesn’t judge; he reports.
An unnamed Corporal send Charley back to the field hospital because he is so covered with blood that he assumes Charley is wounded. Here we sink to one more level of survival: piling the dead into a “stout frozen wall five feet high and thirty feel long to stop the wind” so the surgeons could go on piling up amputated arms and legs (four feet high and ten or twelve feet long already). Charley sleeps five hours next to this wall, next to the men screaming as they lose body parts. Third battle.
Many years ago I wrote a term paper on the Battle of Gettysburg. My main sources were authored by Bruce Catton. Mr. Paulsen’s description of the Battle of Gettysburg fits Catton, who is Paulsen’s main source as well. This is also a fitting reversal of Charley’s first battle, where the Confederates held the breastworks.
In the last chapter, “June 1867,” we see that Charley was not dead as he predicted. He is remembering “all the sweet things when it had started” and we know what he is thinking because Mr. Paulsen took the time at the first of the book to show us. Civilians assume that the post-war trauma involves only the killing, or being shelled. Charley teaches us differently: “even when all his thoughts came on to being gray and … the killing was at last done, he could remember all the pretty things.”
Now “old from knowing too much” and “tired and broken” at the age of twenty-one, Charley knows he won’t live much longer. “In some ways it made him sad and in some ways he was near glad of it.” So many men he knew had already died (“gone across”). He wanted to get rid of the “constant pain and the sounds he couldn’t stop hearing,” but Charley just picnics by the river and thinks of all the pretty things. Who hasn’t felt the same need for peace when watching the movie Rambo, First Blood? We find out in the Author’s Note that Charley would be sitting by that river eighteen months more.
4. Book Reviews
Powel quotes The New York Times review at http://www.powells.com/biblio?isbn=0440228387, “A stark, utterly persuasive novel of combat life in the Civil War that may well challenge generations of middle-school readers.” Publishers Weekly, Starred says "Paulsen's storytelling is so psychologically true that readers will feel they have lived through Charley's experience."
"The nightmare of the Civil War comes to the pages in this novel from Paulsen . . . based on the real-life experiences of a young enlistee."-Kirkus Reviews, Pointer "The novel's spare, simple language and vivid visual images of brutality and death on the battlefield make it accessible and memorable to young people."-Booklist, Starred
Patty Campbell writes for Amazon.com, “In spare, almost biblical prose, Gary Paulsen writes of the horrors of combat in a Civil War novella that puts a powerful, more contemporary spin on Stephen Crane's classic The Red Badge of Courage. Based on the life of a real boy, it tells the story of Charley Goddard, who lies his way into the Union Army at the age of 15. Charley has never been any place beyond Winona, Minnesota, and thinks war would be a great adventure. And it is--at first--as his regiment marches off through cheering crowds and pretty, flag-waving girls.
But then comes the battle. Charley screams, "Make it stop now!" disbelieving that anything so horrible could be real. Paulsen is unsparing in the details of what actually happens on the battlefield: the living men suddenly blown into pieces, the agony and fear, the noise and terror, the stinking corpses. After many battles, Charley is wounded and sent home an old man before he is 20, his will to live destroyed by combat fatigue--leaving him with a "soldier's heart." Paulsen has received the Margaret A. Edwards Award, the ALAN Award, and several Newbery Honor awards for previous work, but this superb, small masterpiece transcends any of his earlier titles in its remarkable, memorable intensity and power. (Ages 12 to 15)”
From Publishers Weekly, “Addressing the most fundamental themes of life and death, the versatile Paulsen produces a searing antiwar story. He bases his protagonist, Charley Goddard, on an actual Civil War soldier, a 15-year-old from Minnesota who lied about his age and ended up participating in most of the war's major battles. At first Paulsen's Charley is fired up by patriotic slogans and his own naive excitement; in a rare intrusion into the narrative, the author makes it clear that ending slavery was not the impetus: "Never did they speak of slavery. Just about the wrongheadedness of the Southern 'crackers' and how they had to teach Johnny Reb a lesson."
But Charley's first battle (Bull Run) immediately disabuses him of his notions about honor and glory. A few sparely written passages describe the terror of the gunfire and the smoke from the cannons. Interwoven with these descriptions, a brilliant, fast-moving evocation of Charley's thoughts shows the boy's shocked realization of the price of war, his absolute certainty that he will die and his sudden understanding of the complex forces that prevent him from fleeing. Details from the historical record scorch the reader's memory: congressmen bring their families to picnic and watch the fighting that first day at Bull Run; soldiers pile the bodies of the dead into a five-foot-high wall to protect themselves from a winter wind.
By the time Charley is finally struck down, at Gettysburg, he has seen it all: ‘At last he was right, at last he was done, at last he was dead.’ He is not in fact dead, but a victim of ‘soldier's heart,’ defined in an eloquent foreword as a contemporaneous term for what is now called post-traumatic stress disorder. Paulsen wages his own campaign for the audience's hearts and minds strategically and with great success. Elsewhere, as in The Rifle, he has told stories in service to a message; here the message follows from the story ineluctably. Charley comes across fully human, both his vulnerabilities and strengths becoming more pronounced as the novel progresses.
Warfare, too, emerges complexly. While a lesser writer might attempt to teach readers to shun war by dint of the protagonist's profound disgust, Paulsen compounds the horrors of the battlefield by demonstrating how they trigger Charley's own bloodlust. Charley cannot recover from his years of war; in a smaller but more hopeful way, neither may the audience. Paulsen's storytelling is so psychologically true that readers will feel they have lived through Charley's experiences.” Recommended for ages 12-up.
From AudioFile, “Gary Paulsen's golden touch with words makes the Civil War come alive--in all its squalor and misery--in this very short novel about a boy who joins up at age 15 and learns that the boring times in camp are the best part of any war. … A must for any Civil War buff. M.C.”
From Kirkus Reviews, “The nightmare of the Civil War comes to the page in this novel from Paulsen (The Transall Saga, p. 741, etc.), based on the real-life experiences of a young enlistee. Charley Goddard, a hard-working, sweet-tempered Minnesota farm boy, can't wait to sign up when the call comes for men to defend the Union. But the devoted son and brother who looks forward to sending home the $11 a month he earns for his soldiering is not prepared for the inedible food, ill-fitting uniform, or the dysentery he experiences just while training. The passages on the battles of Bull Run and Gettysburg are as they should be—disconcerting, even upsetting, in the unflinching portrayal of the bloodshed and savagery of war. What is truly remarkable is Paulsen's portrayal of Charley, who is transformed from an innocent boy into a seasoned--but not hardened or embittered--soldier. Most haunting of all, more than the fiery skirmishes themselves, is the final picture of Charley, so shaken and drained from the experience that the only peace he can envision lies within suicide. An author's note tells of Charley's true fate dead at 23 from the psychological and physical ravages of war.” (Fiction. 10-14)
Kyle J. (age 12), student in Mrs. Kenyon's 6th Grade Class 2003-2004, reviewed Soldier’s Heart at http://www.spaghettibookclub.org/review.php3?review_id=5475 “Charley has a change of heart after experiencing both the physical horrors and mental problems of the Civil War combat. … I think that this book was very good. I like this book because it was about history and I like history. The character I thought was the most interesting was Charley because he is brave enough to go to war and see all those brave soldiers die. … I think other teenagers should read this book because most teenagers like sad and bloody stories.”
Amazon.com customers who bought Soldier’s Heart also bought Bull Run by Paul Fleischman, Sarny by Gary Paulsen, Nightjohn by Gary Paulsen, The Land by Mildred D. Taylor, and Behind Rebel Lines: The Incredible Story of Emma Edmonds, Civil War Spy by Seymour Reit.
The Curators of the University of Missouri and eMints National Center’s website http://www.emints.org/ethemes/resources/S00001411.shtml provide several links: Gary Paulsen’s Official Web Page, Scholastic: Discussion Guide, Teachers@Random, Civil War Maps, eThemes Resource Civil War: Causes and Battles, and eThemes Resource Civil War: Union Soldiers.
Teachers Guide at http://www.randomhouse.com/teachers/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780385324984&view=tg provides these Teaching Ideas:
Getting Started: Thinking About War
Have the class take the following opinion poll, noting whether they agree or disagree. There are no right or wrong answers. The only identifying marks on the students' papers should be an "M" or "F" to indicate the gender of the student, for tallying purposes.
1. War is crazy.
2. War is always bad.
3. War is fun and exciting.
4. War is sometimes necessary.
5. Big wars are bad but little wars are okay.
6. In a war there are "good guys" and "bad guys."
7. In a war everybody thinks his side is right.
8. I think it would be exciting to fight in a war.
9. I don't ever want to be in a war.
Tally the answers on three separate charts, for the class as a whole and for boys and girls separately. Discuss any patterns that emerge. Retain the chart until the end of this unit and use with the culminating activity below.
Form committees to research and report on several general aspects of the Civil War:
What were the economic causes?
Why did the South want to secede?
What were the major battles and their outcomes?
What was the effect of the war on the South? On the North?
Classroom Connections Innocence and Experience
How does Charley's lack of experience contribute to his desire to go to war?
At what point in the story does he lose his innocence?
Do you think he would have enlisted if he had known what war was like?
Later he feels old in comparison to the new recruit Nelson.
Why is Charley unable to teach Nelson what he knows?
Courage--There are several places in the story where Charley wants to leave. Is it bravery that makes him continue to face battle, or something else? Find passages to support your answer.
Friendship--Charley thinks "when a man went down he was alone, even if he was your brother." Why does Charley choose not to have friends on the battlefield?
Science (Health)--Charley tells us that "four men died of dysentery and disease for every man that died of battle wounds." Research the symptoms and causes of typhus and dysentery. How are they spread? What conditions in a Civil War army camp led to these and other diseases? The trenches of World War I? Particular illnesses in the Vietnam War?
History--Use reference books at the library to research Charley's kindly general, George McClellan. Read the history of the battles of Bull Run and Gettysburg and compare with Charley's account.
Math--Create a graph with three bars comparing the number of Union soldiers and the number of Confederates killed in battle in the Civil War, and also the number who died of disease. What percentage of the general population at the time do these numbers represent? Leave room on your chart for adding more statistics later.
Fear --Paulsen makes Charley's fear vivid to us by describing it in terms of his bodily sensations. Think of a time when you were very afraid and write a paragraph about how it felt.
1. What are Charley's reasons for wanting to enlist? Compare these with the real causes of the Civil War that the class researched in the pre-reading exercise. What major issue in the Civil War is missing from his awareness?
2. In the early part of the book, Charley is confident that he is not going to be hit or killed. Later he comes to believe absolutely that he will die. At what point does the shift happen, and what causes it?
3. In the last chapter, Charley has returned to Winona after the war, but he is living alone in a shack by the river. Why do you suppose this is? What happens or is about to happen in the end? What clues does Paulsen give us?
4. What is the symbolism when Charley says he "felt his own age. . .not in years. . .but in meadows." What do "meadows" stand for? What two things does the Confederate revolver in the last chapter symbolize?
5. When Nelson is wounded in the stomach and faces a lingering death, he asks Charley to load his rifle for him and remove his shoe. Why? Does Charley understand what he plans to do, and is he then responsible for his death? What would you have done?
6. Stories of young men going off to war often begin the same way. Compare these elements in both The Red Badge of Courage and Soldier's Heart:
The "drums and songs and slogans" that stir up enthusiasm for war
The young soldier's reasons for wanting to go
The mother's farewell
The parades and pretty girls along the way to war
The boredom of drills and the pride in uniforms
The young soldier's reaction to first battle
Annette Lamb created this lesson in 9/99 at http://eduscapes.com/fun/soldier.htm:
Beyond the Book
Use the Internet Connections below to find resources needed to complete the following activities:
1. Find Winona, Minnesota on a map. Make a timeline of the Civil War including the places where Charley served
2. Make a map showing where Charley served. Include his first military engagement at Manassas until he is finally wounded at Gettysburg.
Map of Battles
Rare Map Collection
List of Battles
3. Compare what you know about Charley's experience with this camp life website. Write a fictional story about a day at the camp.
Camp life at Gettsburg
4. Learn more about the two communities in the war North & South.
Communities in the war
5. What were your chances if you got wounded in the war? Learn about the medicine of the war. Compare it to medicine today.
Learn about Medicine in the Civil War
6. What is Post-traumatic stress disorder? After reading about PTSD, discuss harley's war experience that made him think of suicide as a solution to torment.
Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
Explore these other websites as you explore the book and the American Civil War.
Letters Home from an Iowa soldier
Civil War Index Page
American Civil War Home Page
Author and Book Connections
Paulsen is the author of more than 100 books. Explore information about the author of the book:
Official Paulsen Web Site http://www.garypaulsen.com/
Read other books by the same author: Brian’s Winter, Call Me Frances Tucket, Danger On Midnight River, Escape From Fire Mountain, The Rifle, Dogteam, Nightjohn, Haymeadow, The River, Canyons, The Winter Room, The Crossing, Hatchet, Dogsong, Tracker, and Mr. Tuckett.
Another lesson plan is located at http://content.scholastic.com/browse/collateral.jsp?id=709_type=Book_typeId=2120
Use the following Discussion Guide to talk with your class about the moving story of Charley Goddard in Soldier's Heart by Gary Paulsen. In this guide, you'll find a brief summary of the story, along with discussions of some of the themes, the conflicts, setting, and characterizations in the book. Finally, there are questions to help guide classroom discussions on some of the more difficult issues in this book.
Young Charley Goddard, 15, can't wait to get to be a part of the Civil War! He is so caught up in the excitement and patriotism of the people around him that he lies about his age so that he can enlist. At first, Charley is bored by military life at Fort Snelling. But just when he starts to think about leaving for home, the call comes for his regiment to travel.
Soon after, Charley takes part in his first battle, The Battle of Bull Run. At Bull Run, Charley sees a friend killed by a cannon, and watches many other men die. After taking part in the horrific battle, Charley is convinced that he will not live through the war. In his second battle, Charley is amazed to find himself acting like an animal in his rage to kill the enemy. He's even more amazed to find himself crying when a young stranger is shot in the stomach — a death sentence in this war.
In his third battle, Charley engages in hand-to-hand bayonet fighting. Afterwards, believing the enemy has hit him, he goes to the surgeon's tent. There, he finds that the blood all over him is the blood of other men. When the surgeon's hands grow too cold for him to work, Charley helps build a wall using the bodies of dead men.
The fourth battle is the bloodiest, and most famous, of all-Gettysburg. Here, Charley finally is hit, and is convinced that he will die. Though Charley does make it home after the war, his life is forever altered, and very much shortened, by the battles he's been through. Charley suffers from having a "soldier's heart."
A major theme in Soldier's Heart is the horror of war, and how war changes a person. The author uses events that really happened in the Civil War to bring home the brutality of war--the building of a wall with dead bodies, young men shot in the stomach being left to die, horses being killed to feed starving men. These events must change the men involved. When Charley leaves for Fort Snelling, he is a smiling, fast-talking boy, the apple of his mother's eye. Once Charley returns home, he is a different man-a broken man, in constant pain, unable to hold a job, and looking forward to his own death.
Another theme in the book is that these young men who join up to fight in wars are caught up in a patriotic fever-they are not even fully sure about what they are fighting for. For example, on page 2, Charley simply knows, "There will be a shooting war. There were rebels who had violated the law and fired on Fort Sumter and the only thing they'd respect was steel, it was said, and he knew they were right, and the Union was right, and one other thing they said as well-if a man didn't hurry, he'd miss it."
Later on, Charley is confused when a black Southern woman thanks him for fighting in the war. Is it right for young men to be encouraged to go to war through parades, songs, and slogans? How do you think Charley would respond to such persuasive devices after going through the war?
The major conflict in Soldier's Heart is the conflict of war. Charley fights the Rebels because he is from Minnesota, and people from Minnesota fight for the Union, while people from the South fight against it. War is described in vivid terms throughout the book. Describe some of the scenes of conflict in the book. How does Paulsen make you feel like you are there, in battle, with Charley?
Another conflict in Soldier's Heart is the conflict of conscience that all the soldiers face about whether to stay and continue in the awful war, or to return home to their families. Why do you think more men didn't simply run? What keeps Charley going from one battle to the next?
When Charley travels by train from Fort Sumter through the South, he sees things he never imagined. Find the description of the poor farms in Maryland. What makes them seem so different to Charley from his own farm?
Even the fruit trees that the troops feed on seem ominous in the South when the men develop awful bowel trouble. Trees are also the place where the enemy may be hiding. What would it be like if you felt danger, even from the trees around you?
Charley goes through major changes as a result of being in so many battles. One of the reasons that Charley joins the army is so that he will really be a man. Think about what Charley is like when he goes off to Fort Sumter, eager for his chance at war. Describe Charley during and after his very first battle-do you think it's possible for him to ever be the boy he was when he left for war? Talk about how Charley changed as a result of the war.
When Charley travels through the South, he sees many very poor families on farms. This leads him to believe that the rebels won't be able to fight because they don't have proper supplies. How do Charley's ideas about the rebels change as he becomes experienced in battle against them?
After the first battle, Charley doesn't get close to the other men in his division. He knows that they might die. Yet he does talk to a rebel soldier who convinces him to trade goods when he's on watch. This soldier points out (on p. 69) that, "Here we be, both farmers, talking and trading goods and tomorrow or the next day we got to shoot at each other." Do you think these words change Charley's ideas about the men that he's fighting? How do you think Charley feels when he tries to talk to this man the next night, and gets shot at by the enemy?
1. Why do you think the book is called Soldier's Heart? Given the last chapter of the book and Author's Note on page 103, what do you think it means to have "soldier's heart?"
2. Talk about how Charley makes up his mind to go to war. He and his mother both have been to meetings, seen parades, and heard slogans and songs that drum up support for the war. Do you think that this kind of rallying for war exists today? Where do you find it, and what is it like?
3. Charley wants to go to war because he believes it will make him a man. Do you think he would have wanted to go to was, if he'd known what lay ahead of him? Do you think that "becoming a man" was worth it, for Charley?
4. Charley has to shoot horses, both to defeat the enemy and to feed starving men. Why do you think Charley finds it more difficult to shoot horses than people?
5. One of the ways the author makes the conditions of war immediate to us is to describe what the soldiers have to eat and drink. Imagine what it would be like to drink water that tasted of the blood of wounded men. Find other examples where Paulsen describes such appalling conditions in vivid terms. Do you think you could survive under such conditions?
6. In the last chapter of the book, Charley thinks about "all the pretty things." He begins by thinking about "all the sweet things when it had started; waving pretty girls, Southern summer mornings, cheering children, dew on a leaf . . ." Later in the chapter, Charley thinks about his Confederate revolver. "It was a pretty thing, he thought. The revolver was as pretty as anything he'd seen. . ." Why do you think Charley thinks of the revolver as "pretty"? What can this revolver do for Charley?
7. The Civil War took place more than a hundred years ago. Why do you think that the Civil War is still so fascinating to people who live today? What issues were at stake?
8. Have your class compare and contrast The Civil War to another war your students may be studying. Is Soldier's Heart a universal characteristic of war, or does it refer to only The Civil War?
As a Community Project, have students interview veterans. Ask students to prepare questions and conduct interviews in small groups. Or, you may want to ask a veteran to visit your class to share their experiences of War. Encourage students to use tape recorders and take notes when they interview. Afterwards, have student write about their impressions of the interview.