The Red Badge of Courage

How does Henry think his experiences have changed him? (chapters 17-24)

chapters 17 through 24

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Though still "the youth," Henry has changed from the day before. At the beginning of the fight that day, he is no longer thinking of the metaphoric monsters and war gods that threaten to eat him up. There is no large metaphor that he gives flesh and life –there is only an opposing army, coming at him in his position with an energy he does not feel and cannot understand. This fills him with rage instead of fear. While he thinks of the enemy as beasts having "teeth and claws" and being "flies sucking insolently at his blood," they are still basically men. This is an important change from the day before. Given that the force he faces is of men and not mythical beasts, Henry is more likely to actually be brave. However, at first, his actions in battle were done without thought, consideration, or care. His heroism, if there was any in his actions, was accidental. Only when the lieutenant praises him does Henry begin to take pride in himself; he becomes a symbol of ferocity. Interestingly, this makes the youth fanatical, "a barbarian," and “a knight.”

Henry gains a sense of strength and pride while all of the other troops begin to falter. Throughout this part of the altercation, Henry can see the features of the enemy troops. They are no longer a strange force; they are actually men. In fact, they resemble his young regiment; their uniforms seem new, just like his was at the beginning of the novel. The mysteries of war are dissipating even more. He can see occasionally through the clouds of smoke and see that his foe is merely other men.