The Red Badge of Courage

Chapter 11: Henry starts to think things over again. How?

Red Badge of Courage

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chapter eleven is a return to Henry's tortured, varied thoughts. He sees two conflicting images. First, he sees men driving wagons with horses and mules, fleeing a battle scene. These men have wild looks in their eyes. He initially feels that they justify his own fleeing. Notice, however, that their looks are animal and that they are driving animals.

In contrast, the troops going into the thick of battle have neither animal-like look nor animals accompanying them. These men seem to Henry to be superhuman. They march into battle in images of light and beauty, full of grace and dignity. At first these thoughts make him feel the urge to fight. He is described as soaring on "the red wings of war." Again war is described as something red, but now as a part of an animal, which Henry can assumedly fly upon.

However, his next thoughts kill his own courage. He fears returning to his regiment and bearing their questions and stares. This makes the wings fail. In order to master his fears of war, this images suggests, Henry cannot rely on his animal instincts. They return him to thoughts of his flight, during which he succumbed to his most animal-like impulses. Remember now the squirrel in the forest; fleeing does not make a hero. And Henry Fleming still wants to be hero.

This desire is so strong, it make him wish he were dead or that the army, which he should care about as a body and cause greater than himself, is defeated. Therefore evidence of his flight or the reasons for it would not matter. He does not see how he can still be a hero, despite his flight. Therefore he refers to himself in absolute terms in his grief, as villain and selfish.

However, his thoughts of his tortured return to his regiment still show his youth. As we will see very soon, his return to camp is not the torture he imagines. Yet it is interesting that he thinks that he will be reduced to "a slang phrase" by camp gossip, for in the context of the narrative, he is already a slang phrase‹"the youth." He must go back to camp and face battle again to cease existing as a slang phrase. For as long as he does not face these fears, the book suggests, he will always be simply "the youth."


His thoughts go to the army as a whole and its future failures and then valorous deeds. Public opinion, he decides, cannot be accurate at a long range. Generals must deal with the agony of these opinions, much like he himself would deal with the opinions of his fellow troops.

If the army did well, he would be lost. He would be a condemned man. Henry's thoughts make him frustrated. He calls himself a villain and selfish. He again wishes he were dead. He envies the corpses, killed by luck. They would receive the laurels of tradition.