The Red Badge of Courage

How does Henry'y encounter with the dead man contradict his beliefs that nature has a deep aversion to tragedy?

between chapter 4-7

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The sun rises over a riverside encampment of new inexperienced

soldiers in the blue Union uniforms of the 304th

regiment from New York. A tall soldier, Jim Conklin, tells the

others that he heard a rumor about the generals’ plan: the

regiment will soon be in battle. Some soldiers in the regiment

believe the rumor, others are skeptical and tired of infantrymen

trying to predict their commanders’ strategies. A young

private, Henry Fleming, listens to the debate, then returns to

his bunk to think. With dreams of fighting in glorious battles, he

had enlisted against his mother’s will. Now Henry worries that

he might act cowardly and run away during fighting. He returns

to ask Jim and another soldier, the loud and overconfident

Wilson, if they ever fear running away. Jim says that he’ll do

what the other men do. Henry feels eager for a battle to test

his courage.

The regiment eventually does march and digs into position

in the woods. With battle imminent, Wilson gets spooked and

nervously gives Henry a packet of letters to return to Wilson’s

family in case Wilson dies. Soon, an advance brigade of blue

soldiers runs past in crazed retreat, which shakes Henry’s selfconfidence.

The gray enemy approaches through the trees

and Henry, feeling like a cog in a machine, fires frantically. The

enemy retreats and the soldiers congratulate each other. But

another enemy charge comes on, and Henry turns and runs

away with a terrified mob of fellow blue soldiers.

While he runs, Henry feels that he did the right thing in running

away. He reasons that self-preservation is natural, and

thinks that the generals and any soldiers who stayed to fight

were fools. When the retreat stops, Henry overhears that his

regiment actually did defend their position against the odds.

Ashamed, Henry skulks off into the woods alone, and comes

upon the corpse of a dead soldier in a “chapel” of trees.

Henry is horrified by the gruesome sight of ants running over

the discolored face. He flees and joins a retreating procession

of wounded soldiers. Walking along, a tattered man questions

Henry about his injuries, but Henry, feeling deeply guilty, moves

away from him. Henry privately wishes for his own wound, “a

red badge of courage.” Henry sees a grievously hurt, almost

ghostlike soldier who is refusing any assistance. Discovering the

man to be Jim Conklin, Henry promises to help. Jim runs wildly

into nearby fields and Henry and the tattered man follow. Jim

falls dead. The tattered man, getting worse himself, keeps asking

about Henry’s wound, but Henry abandons him.

Close to the battlefield, Henry encounters a large group of

blue soldiers running away. He grabs one to ask “Why—why—”

but the soldier bashes his rifle on Henry’s head to escape. Now

bleeding and disoriented, Henry wanders in search of a safe

place. An anonymous cheerful soldier guides Henry back to

his regiment’s camp. Henry lies to his regiment that he was shot

in the head. His wound is treated by a quiet subdued Wilson.

The next morning, Wilson asks Henry for his packet of letters.

In comparison with his friend’s embarrassment about fearing

death, Henry soon feels strong, proud, and ready to fight.

Their regiment returns to the fight and takes part in a raucous

deafening battle. Henry goes berserk, firing even after the

enemy retreats. His companions view him with astonishment

and the regiment’s fiery lieutenant praises his bravery. Henry

is dazed but pleased—he has overcome his fears without even

being aware of the process.

Between battles, Henry and Wilson overhear an insulting

officer put down their regiment for fighting like “mule drivers.”

They desperately want to prove him wrong. The regiment is

sent on a dangerous charge against enemy lines, and many

of Henry’s companions are killed. When the color guard gets

shot and falls, Henry grabs the regimental battle flag and rallies

the exhausted regiment to a near victory. Afterwards, other

soldiers hear the regiment’s commanders praising the bravery

of Henry and Wilson. Still, Henry is angry at the insulting officer

and dreams of being killed in a glorious battle as his revenge.

Across the field, a wave of gray soldiers overtakes a crucial

fence. Running with the flag, Henry leads his frenzied regiment

to overwhelm the enemy soldiers. Wilson captures the

enemy’s battle flag. They all congratulate each other and feel

that “they were men.” The regiment is then ordered back over

its gained ground all the way to its original camp on the river.

Henry reflects on his triumphs and the guilt still haunting him,

but feels matured and tranquil, yearning for peace.