The Red Badge of Courage | Study Guide

Stephen Crane

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The Red Badge of Courage | Chapter 12 | Summary



Henry is horrified to see the men he thought were so strong running away from the fighting in terror. He has the urge to start a rallying cry, but is only able to muster, "Why—why—." In the chaos of the retreat in the dusk, the men lose their way and ignore Henry's incoherent questions about what is happening. He finally grabs one man, who is livid with fear, by the arm. The man keeps screaming, "Let me go!" and drags Henry a few paces with him. The man then strikes Henry in the head with the butt of his rifle, causing Henry to sink "writhing to the ground."

After Henry struggles to a standing position, he begins an internal physical struggle: his body wants to lie down while his mind insists on keeping moving. Pushing on away from the fighting, Henry worries his lack of pain is a bad sign; he becomes weary and shuffles his feet. A soldier with a cheerful voice helps Henry find his regiment through the darkness in the forest, which is teeming with soldiers doing the same thing.


Henry receives his wound—his red badge of courage—in a scene that exemplifies situational irony, or a discrepancy between what is expected and what happens. In war it is expected that soldiers will be injured by the enemy; in The Red Badge of Courage Henry is injured by a fellow soldier. Previously, Henry had wished for a red badge of courage so he could join the walking wounded and leave the fighting with a visible, physical sign that he was courageous. However, he is injured by a Union soldier who is so afraid of a battle he is running away in terror along with his comrades. Henry is not injured by a brave enemy but by an equally cowardly comrade.

Henry's psychological debate transforms into a physical one with his body demanding to lie down and sleep while his mind forces him to keep moving. While the cheerful soldier is not a member of Henry's regiment, and therefore not known to him, he nonetheless exhibits the goodwill of a neighbor to look after Henry and see that he is safely returned to his regiment.

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