The Red Badge of Courage | Study Guide

Stephen Crane

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The Red Badge of Courage | Chapter 2 | Summary



The rumor that the regiment would go to battle the next day proves false. Henry Fleming broods on his behavior, continuing to wonder how he will react in battle. He tries to find a comrade who shares similar self-doubts, but he does not ask direct questions for fear of being mocked.

The men are impatient waiting for orders to march, and Henry envisions the enemy as monsters, snakes, and serpents. While marching, Henry continues "his eternal debate" about whether he will run away or stand and fight. His fellow soldiers talk of "victory as of a thing they knew," which saddens the youth, who feels "separated from the others." A private tries to steal a horse, but the young woman who owns it, with the encouragement of the troops who side with her, maintains ownership. After a day's marching, Henry's regiment sets up camp for the night; he goes into the gloom a few paces away from camp and lies on the grass, brooding. The loud soldier (Wilson) joins him and comments that Henry is "getting blue." Wilson, excited to be fighting soon, takes offense at the youth's questions about how he knows he won't run once the fighting starts.


Crane explores Henry Fleming's inner thoughts and his struggles to find out if other men are wondering if they will run. In a young, untested regiment, there most likely are other men with similar feelings, but Fleming does not want to offend anyone with a direct question nor does he want to expose himself to the ridicule of his comrades.

This chapter vividly explores what happens when people have too much time on their hands and get caught up in an internal psychological debate. Henry increases his fear by picturing the enemy as monsters and snakes. The monster and snake imagery casts the enemy in the role of the devil—a force of evil that must be fought. This strategy keeps the soldier from viewing the opponent as human, a view that makes it difficult to kill the enemy in battle. In reality the enemy is most likely made up of scared young men just like Henry.

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