The great irony in Stephen Crane's short story "A Mystery of Heroism" is in the very nature and telling of the tale. The tremendous act of heroism, told in Crane's characteristically realistic and detailed style, is a simple effort to obtain water situated across a battlefield. It ends in the water being carelessly spilled.
Crane, an American novelist, was known to write stories in the genre of psychological realism, wherein his characters face certain death. This tale is no different. The protagonist, Fred Collins, faces death in his simple, not particularly heroic effort to quench his own thirst. The horror and fear he faces crossing the battlefield culminates anticlimactically. Although he is able to retrieve the water, two careless lieutenants cause it to spill. All of his effort was for naught.