The Red Badge of Courage | Study Guide

Stephen Crane

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Course Hero. "The Red Badge of Courage Study Guide." February 27, 2017. Accessed December 17, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Red-Badge-of-Courage/.

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Course Hero, "The Red Badge of Courage Study Guide," February 27, 2017, accessed December 17, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Red-Badge-of-Courage/.

The Red Badge of Courage | Chapter 16 | Summary

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Summary

The men relieve another regiment and settle behind furrows along the edge of the woods looking out at a level stretch of land. The youth listens to the noise of other battles and takes an active interest in what is going on around him. Soon the noise stops and the regiment retreats, along with other regiments, while the enemy is "yelling, shrill and exultant."

This enrages Henry who begins to condemn the generals. He stoutly defends how his regiment has fought, surprising himself that such words are coming from his lips. A chance comment by a sarcastic man—"Mebbe yeh think yeh fit th' hull battle yestirday, Fleming"—reduces Henry to "an abject pulp" and has the result of making Henry a more modest man. The regiment reforms and turns to wait for the attack of the pursuing enemy. Henry starts to complain again and rants, "We're always being chased around like rats! It makes me sick. Nobody seems to know where we go or why we go." The lieutenant tells the men to stop complaining and states, "Less talkin' an' more fightin' is what's best for you boys." The enemy starts to fire on them, and the guns in the rear respond, while initially, the exhausted men "stood as men tied to stakes."

Analysis

Having witnessed skirmishes the day before from his safe vantage point, Henry has a better understanding of how battles are fought; however, he sways in the direction of thinking he knows better than the generals how to fight the war. His anger at not engaging in a fight and then retreating, coupled with the Confederate soldiers' shouts of victory, compel him to speak out against the generals' strategy, surprising even himself. While the sarcastic man's comments silence Henry for a time, Henry begins again to complain, "Nobody seems to know where we go or why we go," thus illustrating the confusion and lack of clear leadership in the Union army at this point in the war. The line also illustrates a sense common among soldiers that the reality of battle and the fight for individual life often overtakes any larger political purpose to war.

The lieutenant's comment, "Less talkin' an' more fightin' is what's best for you boys," is profounder than he realizes. When the men have time to talk and think, they question the strategy of the generals, complain about the conditions and movements, and in Henry's case, the wait gives him more time to think and he starts to bluster again.

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