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 September 20, 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 September 20, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/The-Red-Badge-of-Courage/.

The Red Badge of Courage | Chapter 21 | Summary

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Summary

As the men make their way safely back to the line, they are teased by the soldiers who remained in place. Their remarks sting Henry, and the men lose some of their confidence. Henry is astonished to discover how short a distance they had gone to engage in the battle. As the men rest, Henry reflects upon his own performance. Then the colonel who called them "mule drivers" comes up and chastises their general for not doing enough. At first the men are bewildered by the criticism, but then they start to believe it. Wilson complains to Henry about their ill treatment. Henry responds with a "tranquil philosophy for these moments of irritation." Henry comforts Wilson, saying, "Well, we both did good." Wilson recounts soldiers saying that Henry and he were the two best fighters; others denied it, but then other soldiers said they "did fight like thunder." Wilson complains against the old soldiers mocking them and calls the general "crazy."

Two soldiers come running up and tell of a conversation between the colonel and the lieutenant. The colonel wanted to know who was the soldier who carried the flag. The lieutenant names Fleming and calls him a "jimhickey," or fine fellow. The colonel says, "He kep' th' flag 'way t' th' front. I saw 'im. He's a good un'." The lieutenant then says Fleming and Wilson led the charge the whole time. The colonel says, "They deserve t' be major-generals." Fleming and Wilson scoff at the story but are pleased and exchange "a secret glance of joy and congratulations." They forget their earlier complaints and are grateful to the colonel and lieutenant.

Analysis

Winning a skirmish and then retreating illustrates a level of ineptitude in the leadership of the Union army, as does the squabbling of the colonel and general in front of the foot soldiers. The men should have stayed to hold the ground they had gained, even if it was only a short distance, as Henry is surprised to discover. These details add to the muddled sense of strategy and purpose in war. Often, survival trumps the gain of ground.

Henry displays further psychological growth in how he responds with a "tranquil philosophy" to the situation. This response shows Henry's ability to rise above his sense of individualism and tap into a larger view of purpose. His growth mirrors the growth Henry noticed earlier in Wilson. In a reversal of roles, Henry comforts Wilson. This element of maternalism is becoming essential to psychological survival. The two men are quietly and modestly pleased to be singled out by the colonel and the lieutenant, again showing a growth in maturity in both characters.

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