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Stephen Crane begins a new course of realism in The Red Badge of Courage. Many critics point to him as one of the first American authors of a modern style, and The Red Badge as a fine example of this. The novel is built on a coming-of-age theme, and many of its descriptive elements, such as its concentration on nature and character's actions, are in the realist style, most popularized in America by William Dean Howells and Frank Norris. However, Crane's style in this book has some slight differences from earlier styles. The narrator does not name the characters. In the first chapter, we discover the names of Henry and Jim only through their dialogue with other characters. The narrator only refers to them by descriptors‹"the tall soldier" in Jim's case and, most importantly, "the young soldier" in Henry's case.
Calling Henry "the youth" is the most important indicator that this novel is about his maturity. In this first chapter, he is unproven even to himself. Before enlisting, Henry's thoughts of war and battle are those of valiant struggles for life and death; the possibility of cowardice does not arise in his initial thoughts of battle. However, his mother's speech leaves much more room for interpreting his own future struggles. Rather than give him the advice of the Spartans of ancient Greece to "return carrying your shield or on top of it" (meaning either victorious or killed in combat, not having dropped it fleeing), his mother tells him that, when faced with a situation of kill or be killed, he has to do what he thinks is right, and only that. This is a critical moment in the plot of the book. Henry's actions when facing battle are unknown, even to him. His convictions were strong enough to join the army. Yet these were not because of patriotism or a will to simply fight; the narrator shows Henry to be fantasizing of heroic deeds instead. His mother's farewell speech shows that no one, not even Henry or the narrator, is sure what he will do when faced with battle. Even Jim's answers, while they calm Henry's fears, still are so vague that they do not lead to any concrete predictions for their future actions in battle.
Yet Crane has written into this novel a way to tell certain characteristics even without explicit direction from the narrator‹the use of color metaphors.
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Crane uses color metaphors to imply certain meanings throughout the book. An example of this in the first chapter is Henry's mother's discouragement is described as throwing a "yellow light upon the color of his ambitions." The use of yellow here is deliberate; it refers to cowardice or "being yellow." Henry somehow sees denying his heroic dreams as necessarily falling to cowardice, as this metaphor shows.
As the first chapter ends, we have been introduced to the characters, but also shown that they are even uncertain of whom they are and how they will act. Developments come in later chapters.
Chapter 2 Analysis:
This chapter of The Red Badge of Courage is dominated by Henry's mixed feelings about the upcoming battle. He goes back and forth in thoughts about himself and his fellow soldiers. One moment, he feels that he and they will both fight like brave heroes. The next, he is sure that he is not meant to be a soldier and neither are his companions. If they seem upbeat and happy, they are hiding a deep fear.
It does not matter at this point which one of these interpretations about the men is correct. It is Henry himself who is most important and who the novel follows closely. Because of this, his own feelings of fear and bravery and (above all) uncertainty dominate and tint the perception of all things in this chapter.
For instance, returning to the color metaphors, when they arise, they come grouped together. The best example of this is the description of the regiment moving out for the first time. Their uniforms are not the blue of melancholy and deep thought; they are purple. In the next sentence, "red eyes" of the enemy peer at them from across the river. In the east, the yellow of the sun appears, silhouetting a colonel on a horse, making him appear solid black.
These colors can be interpreted as having certain meanings. Eyes that are red seem more violent and potentially harmful. The yellow may still represent cowardice; but the color is from the sun, a far more courageous and proud symbol. The black of the colonel can be any number of things‹fear of the unknown, a death symbol, a figure of authority like a judge. Most important though is not the particular meanings of these color metaphors but that they appear so rapidly one right after another. They mirror Henry's ambivalence. All these emotions, represented by distinct colors, are embedded in this one scene of the regiment moving out.
Later that night, most of the colors are gone, washed out by darkness. Still, Henry broods. His conversation with Wilson does not help his mood much. What it does reveal is, despite outward appearances, Wilson seems to have made a certain peace with the unknown. He knows not what will happen exactly, just that he will try his best. His words to Henry echo his mother's farewell speech and Jim Conklin's responses to his questions.
The color that does appear in small splashes in this scene is red, the red of the fires. This suggests what we are soon to discover‹that a battle is eminent.
As gray smoke rises above the regiment, Wilson lays his hand on Henry's shoulder and says that, with a trembling lip, that this will be his first and last battle. He just has a feeling about it. He gives Henry a packet of letters to send to his family and then, crying slightly, turns away.
Chapter 3 Analysis:
The images of landscape and color are brought to bear in a very wide fashion in this chapter. After more marching and chatting, Henry and the regiment find themselves on a hill overlooking a battle. Their view is from afar. They do not get to experience it as direct participants and are therefore detached from the actual experience of battle (as we are to find in later chapters, this experience looks and feels quite different from this first view).
Henry's feelings remain ambivalent and shifting. He almost always has some opinion or thought about battle, but they change often. In this chapter, they change at least three times, from fear and dread upon seeing the battle, to anticipation of an actual fight, to frustration when the men are being withdrawn. The colors of this chapter do follow the previous pattern of relating to Henry's shifting feelings. Gold, orange, and red colors flash in this chapter.
Yet, there is an important shift of colors in this chapter towards gray and silver. These two colors have particular historical references to the Civil War. Silver refers to the metal of the troops' rifles, bayonets, and swords. More important, gray was the color of the uniform of the Rebel army. Much like the blue of the Union army uniforms often relates to Henry's melancholy and brooding, the gray refers to the southerners' uniforms, but symbolizes the unknown of battle. The blue Union soldiers, who have been thinking about the implications of battle for days, are now faced with the enemy, both in the metaphor of the "blood-swollen god" of war and the Rebel army. The gray of smoke and fog symbolizes this unknown; and in this chapter, Henry gets closer and closer to it. He believes it to be red, but all he can see now is gray.
Henry's manner begins to become more outward in this chapter as well. This will come to bear later in the book, but he starts to act less and less in his head. This is not through his doing. Wilson gives him his packet without comment of any intelligible sort from Henry. This shows a shift in Henry's interactions. The battle is getting closer and closer. It will finally stop to exist only as postulations in Henry Fleming's head.
Chapter 4 Analysis:
The men still talk and gossip at the beginning of this chapter. They dig in at the edge of a forest facing an open field. A regiment in front of them is already engaging the enemy.
Henry and his regiment do not see the battle clearly; they see it in a haze. This shows their lack of knowledge. The haze and gray colors represent the unknown of battle. Bullets and cannon shells come screeching out of this haze. When one of these shells hits the lieutenant of Henry's company, note that he has no desire to play up his wounds. He holds the wound away from him, not wanting to get blood on his uniform, not wanting red to mingle with the blue. This stands in marked contrast to some of Henry's musings. Redness to this officer is not a badge. He got his wound almost by accident. He does not want to show others proof of this wound‹it is not an authentic "badge" from battle.
As the men watch the haze more, men start to run out of it. The defeated regiment runs through the young troops. The "blue line" only watches them go. The officers try to stop their flight, but the other troops only watch. They are still "blue" and considering an outside action. War, though so close to them, has still not touched them. Though Henry can observe what "the struggle in the smoke" has done to other men (made them wild and flow like a flood), he can still only think about this. He is resolved to view this beast of battle, and only that he might run. He still does not know. He will find out in the next chapter.
Chapter 5 Analysis:
Finally, Henry sees a battle in this chapter. The enemy troops come rushing out of the grayness and smoke in front of his regiment. His doubts still live on in his head, until he actually begins to fire. The change from Henry's head to Henry's communal action, first suggested by Wilson's package in chapter three, comes out fully here. Henry is no longer aware of himself as a person. He acts instead as a member of some greater force.
However, the narrator does not describe exactly what this body is. Rather than one particular thing, he gives a list: regiment, army, cause, and country. It does not matter what exactly it is. He just feels the panic of self-preservation. Yet, it is important that the "self" is a group or collective of some sort. Up until now, most of what we have followed has been Henry's thoughts. He has largely lived in his own head. Now, he is not the only person he is concerned of. There are greater organisms that he is a part of, and he fights for their preservation as much as his.
Interestingly, this means that the troops in Henry's regiment, who have been looking at so much smoke and gray, must create it themselves. The smoke that clouds their vision is as more from their own rifles as the enemy's. While he fights more against "swirling battle phantoms" than other men, Henry is creating the smoke of battle and the smoke of uncertainty himself, along with the other troops. The organism he is a part of, which we cannot describe exactly, is also covered with the same smoke of mystery and unknowing. Henry only knows how to act, not how to think.
This is apparent when Henry finally stops fighting. He fired and reloaded with a furious, mechanical speed. Only when the battle is over does he realize how the smoke chokes him. He sees the cannon shoot behind him, the corpses on the ground, and the blue of the sky. The world has become a picture again, not a world of action. However, something is changed. "Blue" here does not stand for the men's uniform or Henry's brooding; it is that of a blue sky, of optimism and tranquility. It is this peacefulness of Nature that Henry feels as the chapter closes.
Chapter 6 Analysis:
As Henry become more and more aware after the battle, he and his fellow soldiers experience a reprieve. They believe that the battle is over; their trials have passed. Yet, when the Rebel army comes again, they must get up and recreate the grayness and clouds of smoke again.
Henry loses himself again, but this time not in a way that leads him to fight. He feels that he is about to be eaten by "a red and green monster"‹the monster of war and death, which these two colors represent. As men around him begin to flee, Henry loses his nerve and runs in terror.
As he runs, he is no longer engaged in the battle at all. As soon as he turns, all the things he sees are not part of some whole that he is one of, as was in the previous chapter when the battle began. All the things he sees‹the lieutenant, the battery, the general‹are now not part of him. He assumes that he is above them all. It is Henry's superior observation and senses that lead him to flee the battle scene. All those who stay are fools who will soon be devoured by that same red and green monster that Henry fled. He even goes as far to feel that the general of the troops is a fool who knows not what he is doing. They are all machines or fools, not higher beings like he.
To match this, the images we get are mostly peripheral. This follows Henry's vision. He does not stop until he reaches the general. He has thoughts about the men and the battery, for example. Yet for the most part, he does not pay attention to them. Their images are fleeting, vague senses of men running. The most fleeting image, which we never actually see, is that red and green monster in pursuit of Henry. He is convinced he hears it behind him as he runs. However, he is wrong about impending doom. His regiment held their ground. He does not find this until he stops running, and his vision is still. His reaction to this discovery begins in the next chapter.
Chapter 7 Analysis:
Henry's reaction to finding his perceptions of impending doom were incorrect is a similar mix of emotions that we saw before. Though they are now more intense. He is no long postulating on what may one day happen. He has run from the battle. And he must now figure out how to interpret his own feelings.
At first he feels as if he has been caught committing a crime. He then looks towards the battlefield. Above the forest where he was fighting, he sees a yellow fog. This is an incredibly important metaphor. The color of cowardice, yellow, covers his view of the past battle and his actions. Though he moves almost instantly to thoughts of his superior intelligence justifying his running, he is in no way "sagacious" as he believes. He is still very young. He panicked during battle and ran. The yellow fog represents an overlying emotion to the battle and Henry's thoughts about it.
The reason his actions can be seen as cowardice is not because he ran trying to preserve himself. He ran because he was convinced that his regiment was about to be annihilated. Because this is not true, he must reorganize his own thoughts about what he just did. To do this, he walks into a different wood, trying to get away from the battle.
In the forest, the sounds of the battle grow quiet. His "return to Nature" is somewhat akin to Thoreau's in Walden. He attempts to take lessons from nature in some way. Yet, what he is doing is not learning from nature, but rather finding some kind of justification for his actions. When he muses on the squirrel running from his thrown pinecone and how it somehow explains his running from danger, he is only explaining a situation that has already happened. The interpretation is not valid. Nature is not a place of peace, as he believes. It can be, for the forest is quiet. Yet, his encounter with the corpse proves it is not. The uniform, which used to be the blue of the Union army, has faded to green, the same color as the dragon from which he fled during battle. In this place of peace, Henry meets that same green animal of death.
He is once again filled with horror. He runs from the green-colored corpse, but in a different way than when he fled the green monster of battle. He tries to perceive the corpse as he leaves. He first sneaks away backwards, watching the body to make sure it will not rise up again. When he finally turns and runs, he is not thinking of a metaphor, of the force of battle; he is thinking of the one corpse, with its flesh and eyes. He does imagine things that are not there, like the corpse's voice. Yet even one person by himself away from the battle must face some form of death. He could not get away from this, even though he tried.
Chapter 8 Analysis:
"A crimson roar from the distance" breaks the tranquility of the forest. This color signifies war and conflict once again. Yet, what truly interrupts the peace, more than the fighting itself, is its gruesome outcomes. Henry had a glance of this in the previous chapter, when encountering the corpse in the forest. Soon he will see the effects of the war on the bodies of men.
He can see the gray of battle from where he stands. He is long away from the grayness; but upon the road, he soon sees men wounded from that battle from which he fled. They are bloodstained, with both new and old blood, looking red and black. Between battle and the dead are these men. They have the marks of war obviously upon them, and it turns them into walking specters. Henry has been imagining these ghosts of battle for a long time. Now he sees and interacts with them. They are so unlike the real living as soldiers that they do not defer quietly to an officer, and even insult him, something no real soldier would do.
One tattered soldier approaches him in all this. What is interesting about this man is the amount he speaks. Henry, so caught up in his own considerations, musings, and emotions, cannot think of a thing to say, even when asked direct questions. This man has facility of language, and uses it thoroughly. Henry has not yet mastered it, having fled from his battle. He cannot speak about it or his wounds, for he knows nothing about them. In this context, this tattered man is full of words. He knows both about battle and wound. Therefore, his direct questions cut Henry to the quick. They show his immaturity and cowardice, though they do so without malice. Henry cannot process these and, like before when faced with an unknown, runs away.
Chapter 9 Analysis:
The beginning of this chapter stands out because of its specific reference to a "red badge of courage." The youth wishes he actually had a wound, which would show his bravery in the face of the terrors and struggles of battle. However, he sees the effects of these red badges in an upfront way when confronted with the spectral figure of Jim Conklin. The tall soldier has been wounded twice. The badges he carries prevent him from walking and thinking clearly.
Furthermore as they walk together, the gray fear and unknown is still with Jim, despite his wounds. His face turns gray as he tells Henry that he fears being trampled to death by the speeding artillery carts. This shows that the phantoms of battle and death, the gray unknown, do not escape even those who have a red badge of courage.
Henry, though he finally wants to act for the first time since the battle, cannot do anything. Jim will not let him even touch him. Besides, death is so close for Jim that there is nothing the youth can do. This frustration and anger at seeing his friend die makes Henry weep so much, that he cannot talk. Henry's words and thoughts are finally halted. He is no longer thinking now. Remember that he was still interpreting the images he saw as the fled from battle; now, he can do little but cry.
After Jim dies and Henry rushes up to his body, we see a transition from blue to red. The flap of Jim's uniform falls open, showing his side, which looks "as if it has been chewed by wolves." The blue musings of Henry have now transformed into a red reality. Wounds are not just outward marks; they have consequences on the body. While he may have desired to be seen with a badge of courage, Henry now realizes that these marks can lead to death.
Henry, still a youth, mistakenly calls this situation "hell" as the red sun sinks in the horizon. The red suggests this vision; and yet, while it may resemble his views of hell, he has not yet seen hell or even a battle to its conclusion. His views about red badges and war will undergo even more changes as the book moves on.
Chapter 10 Analysis:
Henry still remains speechless, unable to act as this chapter opens. His companion, the tattered soldier, speaks as much as anyone in this book has up to this point. The chapter is dominated with his words. He can speak easily and freely. Because of his wounds, he feels woozy and strange; and he rambles throughout the chapter.
Henry, on the other hand, barely says anything. He has just witnessed his friend from home die and was unable to prevent it. He is in a line of wounded men, himself not wounded and in fact having fled from a battle, which his regiment won. Unlike the tattered man, he is not free to talk. He cannot interact with the tattered man or even like him. His actions and experience are totally different. And given the recent circumstances, he cannot feel like the tattered man. Therefore, he does not speak.
What he does do is walk. In doing so, Henry finally detaches himself from the wounded and their "red badges." Not having one, he cannot tell the tattered man where he is hit. The shame from this fundamental realization makes him finally leave the scene.
The tattered man, however, feels that the youth is wounded and yet does not know it. He calls after him, in his confused way, to stop and not go. "It ain't right," he says, for Henry to just walk away. Yet Henry must. He does not belong to these people, who bring "ghosts of shame" into his mind. Furthermore, these men, though they have red badges of courage, are near to death. This fact dominates the scene. Henry fled battle to save himself. Though he wants some mark of courage for himself, this is not the procession he should be in. Therefore, he flees the stinging questions of the tattered man. Now he runs toward the battle, instead of away from it.
Chapter 11 Analysis:
Unlike the previous chapter, which was dominated by the spoken words of one character, chapter eleven is a return to Henry's tortured, varied thoughts. He sees two conflicting images. First, he sees men driving wagons with horses and mules, fleeing a battle scene. These men have wild looks in their eyes. He initially feels that they justify his own fleeing. Notice, however, that their looks are animal and that they are driving animals.
In contrast, the troops going into the thick of battle have neither animal-like look nor animals accompanying them. These men seem to Henry to be superhuman. They march into battle in images of light and beauty, full of grace and dignity. At first these thoughts make him feel the urge to fight. He is described as soaring on "the red wings of war." Again war is described as something red, but now as a part of an animal, which Henry can assumedly fly upon.
However, his next thoughts kill his own courage. He fears returning to his regiment and bearing their questions and stares. This makes the wings fail. In order to master his fears of war, this images suggests, Henry cannot rely on his animal instincts. They return him to thoughts of his flight, during which he succumbed to his most animal-like impulses. Remember now the squirrel in the forest; fleeing does not make a hero. And Henry Fleming still wants to be hero.
This desire is so strong, it make him wish he were dead or that the army, which he should care about as a body and cause greater than himself, is defeated. Therefore evidence of his flight or the reasons for it would not matter. He does not see how he can still be a hero, despite his flight. Therefore he refers to himself in absolute terms in his grief, as villain and selfish.
However, his thoughts of his tortured return to his regiment still show his youth. As we will see very soon, his return to camp is not the torture he imagines. Yet it is interesting that he thinks that he will be reduced to "a slang phrase" by camp gossip, for in the context of the narrative, he is already a slang phrase‹"the youth." He must go back to camp and face battle again to cease existing as a slang phrase. For as long as he does not face these fears, the book suggests, he will always be simply "the youth."
Chapter 12 Analysis:
Interestingly, the same troops who sent Henry on such a fit of philosophy about war and bravery soon turn tail and flee battle themselves. Their flight lends to a general air of confusion and commotion, with troops, officers, artillery, and cavalry all going in different directions, all making different noises. The scene is so confusing that Henry is again speechless and thoughtless. He can only blubber out his lack of understanding, repeating to himself and others, "Why? Why?"
It is in this confusion that he gets a wound. Being hit on the head does not help Henry's understanding of what is going on around him. And yet it is a real wound, with blood, resembling the red badge that he had wished for earlier. It comes to resemble a "red badge" in certain senses, as we will see in the next chapter.
However, unlike the confused ramblings of the fleeing troops in the first part of this chapter, it is the words of the cheery man that get Henry to his destination. This is one of the longest unbroken speeches in the entire book. It is unclear exactly who this man is. In fact, he himself says that he did not know in battle whether he was from Ohio or Florida. The army, the man states, is a disorganized mess. For a brief moment, we are no longer following Henry's or the narrator's thoughts. We are listening as readers to this cheerful man, as he guides the youth from the confusion of the earlier scene to safety and home‹Henry's regiment. It is through his words, not the youth's, that we arrive at the end of the chapter.
Chapter 13 Analysis:
For all of Henry's worrying about his return to his regiment, the men who are awake when he arrives welcome him back. They are happy to see him return. Despite this, and because of the constant questioning of the tattered man, Henry makes up a story about getting shot. He still cannot face the reality of his situation, cannot retell it for what it was. His juvenile nature is still in effect.
However, his actions are counter-balanced by the more mature and self-less actions of Wilson, the loud soldier. He takes care of Henry and his wound, trying to make him comfortable, complimenting his toughness, making sure he gets to sleep. There is little bragging about the loud soldier's actions. He does them, it seems, out of his joy to see Henry.
The imagery of the chapter suggests that he also may do this out of weariness for battle himself. Pictures of exhausted, sleeping soldiers dominate this chapter. While we do not know what the regiment has gone through exactly, all the men are asleep by the time Henry arrives. The youth has had a longer day than the rest of the soldiers. Perhaps this is driving Wilson's desire to take care of Henry‹he is a member of their regiment, of their group, who was given up for dead. Now that he has returned, he needs a little extra care.
The color images, so strong and bellicose before, take on a much more placid feel as Henry takes in the sights caused by the fire. The dark shadows and sleeping soldiers dominate the forms. These men are exhausted and weary. They need the rest they are getting. However, the same fire that bathes them in warm orange and red is the fire of the regiment. These fires also make the trees overhead seem to be those same colors of war‹gray and red. While the regiment is a place for comradeship, it is also a fighting force. This gray and red of the trees foreshadows the happenings of future chapters. The day may have been extremely tiring, and yet the men's hardships are not done. There are still more battles to be fought.
Chapter 14 Analysis:
This chapter deals mainly with Henry's changing maturity and self-perception. As the youth awakens, the gray mist is back again, with all of its meaning of mystery and conflict. In the early light, Henry thinks that the forest is a house of the dead. Before this point, this reflection might have led him on a mental flight of fancy, thinking over and over about the implications of this image. In earlier chapters, Henry often gets caught up in these thoughts and ideas, perceiving something to be one thing and applying it directly to his own condition. This first view of the soldiers around him would lead in a similar direction. He thinks he is in a house of the dead, perhaps he himself dead because of his wound. However, he quickly realizes that this is not the truth. He is just in a forest with his regiment. He sees that his idea was "not a fact of the present, but a mere prophecy." This is not to say that these men will become corpses in any certain amount of time. This does show, however, that Henry's perception of the outside world and his place in it is changing. He is not getting so carried away by his thoughts.
Another element of prophesy in this chapter is the developments of Wilson. "The loud soldier" is no more. Something in the battle yesterday and his reflections on it lead him to an increase in wisdom and compassion. The narrator renames him "the friend." This shows that he has been fundamentally changed in some way, so much so that he needs a new name. Henry even notices these changes to himself. Wilson no longer gets angry at slight words, is not so interested in demonstrating his prowess. He is far more concerned in helping people get along and survive, as evidenced by his stopping a fight between soldiers and taking care of Henry.
Henry, however, has not changed enough. It is true that the first words of this chapter show some of a change in his character. But he is still eager to avoid drawing attention to his flight. He yells at Wilson as the latter tries to change his bandages. Wilson does not get upset at this. Furthermore, even after he has noticed the changes in Wilson, he cannot restrain his own expressions of irritation at small things. He does not recognize that others are glad to see that he is alive. When Wilson talks about troops coming back and how they were thankfully not dead, Henry says, "so?" in a very callous way. He has not learned the same lessons that Wilson has, because he has not been through the same experiences as Wilson. Notice, also, that he still bears the title "the youth." Until he matures more, this name still sticks.
Chapter 15 Analysis:
Henry's immaturity is all too obvious in this chapter. He still fears Wilson, who has been so kind to him since he returned to the regiment. He fears his ability to ask questions, to use words to shame Henry. The youth is still insecure about his having fled battle.
As he sees it, he has a weapon against this‹Wilson's packet of letters. With these, he can remind Wilson of his own insecurities and fears. It makes Henry feel haughty and proud. We now see him go on another of his flights of fancy, where his thoughts and imagination get the better of his emotions. He holds all those in contempt who complain. Retribution for his actions, which he feared almost as much as death the day before, he dismisses as being "laggard and blind." He even goes as far to say that those dragons he saw yesterday were not so bad. From his previous actions, we know this is not true. Those same dragons threatened to eat him earlier‹this is why he ran in the first place. The zenith of his ridiculous, prideful thoughts come when he even holds those others who fled in battle in contempt, because they ran with wildness. He, on the other hand, fled "with discretion and dignity." We know, from the earlier chapter, that this is not the case. He fled because others were fleeing. He fled because he too was afraid. And he fled wildly.
Wilson, however, interrupts these silly thoughts by asking for the letters back before Henry can dangle them over his head. Though Wilson feels embarrassed by this and Henry continues to feel superior, what is most important is that Henry cannot say anything to further shame his friend. Despite all of his thoughts of combatable dragons and war stories for home, Henry is still the youth. He dreams of speaking, but when the time comes to put his thoughts into action and ridicule Wilson, he cannot. His actions betray his thoughts. Words once again fail for the youth.
Chapter 16 Analysis:
The grayness of war peppers this chapter. As the regiment goes on into a potential battle, they still do not see any actual fighting. They only hear it‹from down the line of trenches and through the forest. Anticipation is building once again, but it is different from the previous day. Now the men are not fresh. They are tired and frustrated. Officers spit insults, and the troops are sullen.
Henry, however, is full of words for one of the few times in this book. While on the trench line, he tries to tell a joke. He complains about the generals to his friend. Later, he complains about being marched around only to eventual defeat. Each time, he is prevented from finishing his thoughts. In the trenches, the cannon above drown out his words. The sarcastic man bites off his comments while marching with a simple insult about his own battle prowess‹"Maybe you think you fought the whole war yesterday, Fleming." This quiets Henry for a time. Instead of the dread issue of his actions on the previous day coming as a question about what he did, this man shoots him down with a statement. Henry definitely did not fight the whole battle. He knows exactly how much of it he did fight‹very little. This keeps him quiet for a while. However, he later begins to rail out again. When Wilson, now matured, tries to say that everything will turn out okay in the end and think positively, Henry snaps at him that it will not. The lieutenant cuts him off, angry at all the words being uttered.
Henry tries to express himself with words, but his thoughts are not deemed to be worth listening to. He tries to appear to others and himself as if he knows some truth of battle. The only truth he does know is that it is frightening. This is not the truth that he describes. He goes on rants about the inability of the generals, whose job he knows little about. He, in fact, knows little about what it is to be a soldier. Those around him cut down his own thoughts, now brought out into the open. However, the grayness of the forest begins to be cut with muzzle flashes. Another battle is coming. The youth may indeed be able to prove himself.
Chapter 17 Analysis:
Though still "the youth," Henry has changed from the day before. At the beginning of the fight that day, he is no longer thinking of the metaphoric monsters and war gods that threaten to eat him up. There is no large metaphor that he gives flesh and life. There is only an opposing army, coming at him in his position with an energy he does not feel and cannot understand. This fills him with rage, instead of fear. While he thinks of them in bestial ways, as having "teeth and claws" and being "flies sucking insolently at his blood," they are still men of some type. This is an important change from the day before. Given that the force he faces is of men and not mythical beasts, Henry is more likely to actually be brave.
However, his actions are not of exceptional bravery. He becomes one of a smoke-producing group once again, acting quickly and with rage, as the day before. Yet he is even less aware of himself on this battle day. He cannot tell what is up or down or even that the battle is over.
He only thinks of his actions in a certain context when the lieutenant congratulates him. Only after that does he think of himself as something‹a hero. This idea of his is tenuous at best. He remains "the youth," which still shows his immaturity. His actions in battle were done without thought, consideration, or care. His heroism, if there was any in his actions, was accidental. The way we can tell his maturity and heroism is evident in his thoughts of the enemy he faces. He is still fighting out against metaphors. Though there are no war gods or dragons, the men he fights are superhuman or quasi-human with animal-like features. Interestingly, this makes the youth fanatical, "a barbarian," and a bit superhuman himself. Yet he is not quite a hero. Not yet. The blue sky reappears at the end of this battle, just like the first skirmish, representing optimism. But a cloud of smoke from battle drifts up into it. Henry Fleming has still not finished his journey through this book. The smoke shows that the mysteries of war still remain.
Chapter 18 Analysis:
This chapter shows a difference between the foot soldiers of the novel and the men who have the upper command. Throughout the story there have been occasional complaints from the troops about the general's lack of ability. It is true historically that in the Civil War, the Union side suffered from poor leadership in its upper ranks throughout much of the war. This fact, however, is not crucial for the story. What is important is that the commanders do not see the men as individuals, but as a fighting force.
The general and his staff almost crush a wounded man when riding along in the forest. They are oblivious to the suffering of this individual soldier and of individual soldiers in general. Their words are not groundbreaking, not those of great men. They are solidly technical and evaluative. Glory does not come easily even to a general, this goes to show. Henry, who has been obsessed with war glory since before his time in the army, waits for some grandiose language from these men. Instead, he gets the information that his regiment is a good one and that the attack they are about to commit to will likely kill many of the men. The simultaneity of this statement strikes Henry as odd. They are referred to "as a broom," in other words, as some sort of tool. To these generals, this is what war is about‹ordering and directing groups of actors against other groups of actors. They care little for the actions of sole members of that group as long as they do what is needed to help the army out.
The news of a coming advance on the enemy gives the regiment more energy and will. Yet, they only know that they will charge. They do not know the two-fold evaluation of their past acts and the outcome of their future acts. In the general's words is a similar approach to time that Henry has exercised throughout the novel, evaluating past actions and prophesizing on future outcomes. Yet he does it casually and seemingly without care. This is quite different from Henry's thoughts, which magnify the importance of everything, even events that have not yet happened. Of course this strikes Henry as strange. The general's words are a completely different way to look at the battle, separated from Henry by age, experience, and social class. The youth accepts the possibility, though, that they may indeed die. He exhibits in this some bravery for the battle to come.
Chapter 19 Analysis:
Now, Henry Fleming, the youth, is about to see something more of battle. As the regiment lurches forward towards the enemy, they seem driven by some super-human impulse. The red in Henry's features show that this madness is derived directly from the pressures of war. Somewhere in between the pressure from commanders and the pressure from the enemy lies this insanity, which makes the men speed forward towards firing guns.
Their nerves are tested as they go. The guns fire yellow flame, the color again representing cowardice. Fear of death causes feelings of self-consciousness and, in advanced cases, the desire to flee. However, as they get closer, the enemy becomes less mysterious. They can make out the cannon and the men working feverishly at them. The Rebel army is beginning to take on more human form, as a group of men and not a force of war.
However, the fear and the running cause the men to pause. As they pause, Henry becomes more self-conscious, wondering why he is actually here and fighting. This self-consciousness halts the crazed nature of the assault, but does not cause the troops to look for safety. They are caught in between two states‹bravery and cowardice. They are reduced to inactivity. The lieutenant, who cares more for the success of the regiment than the individuals, presses the men to keep charging and fighting, rather than fleeing to safety. Yet soon his actions are reduced too, he only able to curse at his troops and tug at them to charge. Meanwhile the smoke of battle, the recurring metaphor for this book, becomes so think that the men do not where to go. This adds to their general confusion, not just in the plot but also as a metaphor. They stop, illogically, in the middle of the battlefield because of it. However, Henry knows that on the other side, beyond this smoke of mystery, lay men of an opposing army. He must get through the smoke to see them and end his mythologizing of war.
What breaks Henry from his lethargy is the vision of the American flag. He latches on to the red and the white‹war and power‹as driving, energizing forces. The flag does not falter. As the troops go, it stays flapping in the breeze. Even as the color sergeant falls down dead, he feels that the flag gives him and the regiment power. His actions become slightly clearer, his energies more directed. He leaps for the flag. While it makes him more of a target, he also is attempting to master "the colors." If he can handle the red and the white of the flag, he will finally master his experience of war.
Chapter 20 Analysis:
Henry finally gains control of the flag from his friend, Wilson. Something curious happens to him after this. He gains a sense of strength and pride while all of the troops begin to falter.
Indeed, most of this chapter describes the regiment running out of energy as they attack. The men bow their heads as they are pelted in a counter-attack. They scowl at the officers that try to get them to advance. This would be a better option than merely absorbing bullets. But the will of the regiment is broken.
Henry recognizes this and feels anger for the officer that volunteered the men for this charge. His anger is not unjustified or wild. He feels it along with the strength from holding the flag. He, along with the officers, exhorts the men to continue. As he does this, he finally sees briefly through the smoke. The other men appear on the other side. Yet the force still looks superhuman, a body of innumerable men. While they are identified as men, they still seem to be an unrealistic number. The enemy flag flashes through the smoke too.
Then, when all seems lost, the injured lieutenant, whose words failed him for most of this chapter, sees the enemy coming upon the regiment. Finally, his words come to a good end. The regiment creates more of their own smoke against their aggressors, surprising the enemy. Throughout this part of the altercation, Henry can see the features of the enemy troops. They are no longer a strange force; they are actually men. In fact, they resemble his regiment in the fact that their uniforms seem new, just like his had at the beginning of the novel. The mysteries of war are dissipating even more. He can see occasionally through the clouds of smoke and see that his foe is other men. And when the smoke finally clears, it shows the field clear of enemies, and the regiment depleted, but still a force.
The narrator adds at the end that these troops "were men." This is the crucial moment of the chapter. As a coming of age novel, the experience of this battle, where they saw and conquered their enemy, is the moment of maturity for the regiment. However, their trials are not over. As we will, see the smoke has not completely cleared from the battlefield. Their officers' opinions count for much, and before they can be truly glorious in battle, they must do more. Therefore, Henry is still referred to as "the youth."
Chapter 21 Analysis:
Upon returning, the new men of the regiment realize that other's perceptions of their actions are quite different from their own. The veterans mock them. The generals do not see their actions as successful at all. In fact, they are so minor that their charge was not even a successful diversion, let alone a successful charge.
Once again, the men of the regiment are let down. Every time they are lead into battle, they feel that it is the climatic time. Henry especially has this view. He believes himself to finally be grown after the battle before. He did demonstrate bravery in carrying the flag; the narrator did describe him as a "man." Yet, in the view of others, the regiment still has more to go before it can be successful in battle. To merely be men is not enough. They still have not demonstrated enough courage. They can be satisfied with their actions as a regiment, but they need to further the greater cause of the army before they can truly be successful.
In spite of this, Henry and Wilson continue to grow and mature both in their own actions and in the eyes of others. Henry does not throw venom at the leaders who reprimanded the regiment for their job. He and Wilson explain the happenings and others perception as "bad luck." This is a little short sighted on their part‹the charge they participated in was merely a diversion for another regiment's attack, and therefore not a "real" charge. Still, their outlook is mellower than before.
Also the rumors of their being commended by their officers supports this view of their maturity. Of course, we do not hear these from the officers themselves. We have no idea how accurate the soldier's version of the story is. And yet, that someone in the regiment would come and tell them the tale goes to show that their actions are being recognized. The two men are standing out as exemplary members of the regiment. They are beginning to combine group excellence with individual excellence. This, the book suggests, wipes away their old guilt and is a further step on their road to maturity and true heroism.
Chapter 22 Analysis:
Henry is now tied up with the flag he carries. As he gathered strength from it before, he continues to do so. He stands strong in the rush and din of battle. Interestingly, the gray phantoms, which haunted him at the first skirmish, are not bothering him now. They are smoke that he can see through. He makes out different parts of the battle and sees how the greater body, that of the army, is engaged even if he himself is not yet fighting.
In this view that he sees, the blue and the gray of the opposing armies are lashing out at each other. The two sensibilities of before, the blue of melancholy and reflection and the gray of the unknown, are finally in one view. This is one of the first times that they are identified in the same picture. This shows how Henry's perspective is becoming more encompassing, more improved. He sees the whole battle, and thus can finally see the blues and grays battling with one another. Introspection and mystery are converging; one side will win. He cannot tell which one is.
As his regiment strikes out, it seems like they will fall. They get close enough to finally see the enemy soldiers, becoming less and less mysterious all the time, while their cohesion as a group becomes stronger. The regiment makes more smoke of their own; their faces are blackened with soot. They are accustomed to these changes at this point. The battle experience has made them into something different. They were men before; they are changing into a fighting force.
However, those men in gray are fighting well, and the men in blue begin to drop more. Though they are growing, their survival is threatened. In the next chapter, they will commit one final act of bravery that will seal the actions of this book and be part of the defeat of the gray.
Chapter 23 Analysis:
The regiment is facing their final test of this book. On their last advance, they have gotten close enough to the enemy to see features of their faces. Here, they stand so close that the men in gray insult them. Upon hearing their officers' demands to charge, they do so, towards the gray fence, through the smoke. Finally, after facing so much grayness, the regiment is cutting through it. Their actions will give it features. Henry does not know what they look like, but he knows that they are there: "he knew that in it [the smoke] lay the aged fence of a vanished farmer protecting the snuggled bodies of the gray men." He has grown and matured from his first experiences in battle. Beyond the fence lies an end to the mystery and even a chance to demonstrate heroism.
The flag of the enemy represents not just their power as an army, but the power of battle as well. When Wilson grabs the flag and waves its "red brilliancy" in the air, he is demonstrating an end to these struggles against war and its psychological terrors. The flag with its red field is no longer waving in defiance of their actions, representing their bad luck. The men in blue now hold it. They have faced and conquered those earlier dragons. Their colors make a brief reprise after the color sergeant falls dead. Where he falls is described as a place where "much blood [was] upon the grass blades." While these colors still hold some of the gore and horribleness of war, the red and the green no longer represent a mythological creature. Blood and grass intermingle the red and the green. These are real things. Henry Fleming can see these. He does not have to imagine them.
Also plainly visible are the captured Rebel soldiers, who resemble them in so many ways. They speak the same language as their captors and look very similar, save the color of their uniforms. They also span ages, physical conditions, and (most importantly) reactions to their present condition. All of their actions, full of self-care, fear, and thought, are not those of phantoms or war ghosts made of smoke. They are men, just like the men in blue. It took several skirmishes and an adventure fleeing for Henry to realize this, but now he knows. His war adventure, as far as the book is concerned, is drawing to a close.
Chapter 24 Analysis:
Henry finally finishes his inner journey during the course of this chapter. He is no longer dealing with pressures of battle. With the admission that "it's all over," he is free from his constraints of attempting to guess the present or the future. He can now reflect on what he did in the past. At first, he feels that he is happy. He basks in his accomplishments, and as he does he is bathed "in purple and gold." This new color combination is used in its historical connotation of royalty. Henry has now become a hero. Without much fanfare, from himself or others, but still he seems to ascend ranks with these colors.
However, his good emotions hit a snag when he considers his flight. New ghosts of shame and reproach come back to haunt him. As he thinks about his flight during battle and the tattered man who cared for him so much that he abandoned him, he goes as far to cry out and swear "crimson oaths" at his friend. The redness of battle has returned to him. He acts out of rage again, this time at his own past.
Most importantly, though, he is concerned that his fellow soldiers can detect these emotions. People's perceptions matter very much to him still. He is doing enough battle with his own head; he does not want to fight the words and emotions of others when they find his secret.
He eventually puts the past in the past and does not let it bother his present state. In fact, he does this by looking back at his earlier thoughts of battle and fleeing. Note, however, that what we get is Henry's observation of his own emotions: "He was gleeful when he discovered that he now despised them [his old thoughts]." It is only by observing himself, and not putting so much importance on the view of others, that he can move beyond his old state. Once he sees that he despises his old mind, he is finally described as being sure, steady, and "a man" (as opposed to earlier, when he was one of many "men" of the regiment). He can now leave the battlefield changed. And while he his no longer decorated in gold and purple when he leaves in the rain, the golden sunlight comes through the leaden clouds. These are the final colors we are left with. In the gray mysteries of life, there is greatness. And one must realize this for one's self