The Red Badge of Courage | Study Guide

Stephen Crane

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The Red Badge of Courage | Chapter 17 | Summary



As the enemy starts to attack, Henry fumes "with rage and exasperation." Henry has a "wild hate for the relentless foe," but also experiences a shift of feeling—the previous day he felt the universe was against him and he hated it, while this day, he hates the enemy with the same deep hatred. Henry's eyes are full of hate, his mouth is in a snarl, and the bandage around his head has a "spot of dry blood" over the wound.

A moment later, the fighting starts and the regiment "roared forth in sudden and valiant retort." Henry's rage spurs him on, and he is fighting so intently he doesn't realize the enemy has retreated as he continues firing during a lull. The lieutenant calls out to Henry: "By heavens, if I had ten thousand wild cats like you I could tear th' stomach outa this war in less'n a week!" Some of the men are awestruck by Henry's fighting, and Wilson comes over to make sure he is all right. As the men rest, Henry realizes "he had been a barbarian, a beast" and "that it was fine, wild, and in some ways, easy." The things he had struggled with prior to battle have fallen away "like paper peaks." Henry is now a hero but "had not been aware of the process."


Henry becomes caught up in the fighting; he isn't thinking just of himself as he had the previous day when he believed the whole Confederate army was shooting at him. He is part of a whole and loses himself in that whole. His actions reflect what Jim Conklin, the tall soldier, says in Chapter 1, "if everybody was a-standing and a-fighting, why, I'd stand and fight."

In addition Henry embodies his previous image of the enemy: his rage turns him into an animal. At the end of the fighting, Wilson checks on him to make sure he is psychologically okay and that he hasn't snapped. Henry is learning how to rage when appropriate in battle and then to cool off once the fighting stops. The lieutenant is impressed, and his comrades are in awe of Henry's prowess. In opposition to his Homeric ideals of battle and his status as an imagined mythic hero, Henry's actions on the battlefield make him a hero, but "he had not been aware of the process." Henry is learning how to be a soldier, how to read and react to the enemy, and how to work with his comrades.

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