The Red Badge of Courage | Study Guide

Stephen Crane

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The Red Badge of Courage | Chapter 8 | Summary



When the sounds of another battle reach Henry's ears, he runs toward the fighting in order to watch it. The noise is so loud he realizes the battle in which he had fought had been a minor one. When he reaches a roadway, he encounters the wounded walking away from the fighting. The men make noises of pain and anguish, and their "torn bodies expressed the awful machinery in which the men had been entangled." Henry is befriended by the tattered man who praises how the soldiers did not run but stayed and fought. When asked where he was hit, Henry guiltily slides away.


Henry is drawn to observe the battles he hears, and the noise makes him realize the battle he fought in was a minor one. The intensity of the battle he witnesses surprises him. He falls in with a line of wounded men walking away from the fighting. The tattered man's story about his conversation with a soldier from Georgia is an example of dramatic irony, which occurs when the audience knows something the character does not know. The tattered man is proud that the Union soldiers stayed and fought, but the readers know Henry fled. Abashed, Henry falls back from the tattered soldier to mingle among other wounded soldiers and in doing so flees his responsibilities yet again.

The metaphor of the war "machinery" juxtaposes the war as the tool of politicians with the individual soldiers who must fight it. For politicians the war is fought in strategic meetings, while for the foot soldier, the war is fought on battlefields by human bodies that are subject to pain and death.

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