in chapter 7
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The ants signified the true state of death; insects assist bodies in reaching their eventual decay; a living being would never tolerate the feeling of ants marching across their skin. The youth has experienced death, he's lost fellow soldiers, but he hasn't seen it in its complete reality. The ants are an introduction to the 'end of life,' and the truth that we all end up the same way; it's never pretty, and it's unavoidable.
"At last he burst the bonds which had fated him to the spot and fled, unheeding the underbrush. He was pursued by the sight of black ants swarming greedily upon the gray face and venturing horribly near to the eyes."
The youth runs away from the sight to escape death, and the ants pursue him like hungry swarm.......... fear and death.
The Red badge of Courage/ Chapter 7