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Free Barron's Booknotes Summary-The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane
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CHAPTER 2

As it turned out, Jim Conklin's rumor was wrong, and the regiment stayed where it was. This left Henry more time to worry about whether he would be brave enough to fight, and he began to feel increasingly isolated. He had known Jim Conklin, the tall soldier, since childhood. He didn't think that Jim could do anything that he, Henry, couldn't, and Jim didn't seem to be afraid of battle. But that didn't make him feel any better. Afraid to confess his fears openly to the other soldiers, he could not get the comfort that he needed from them.

Finally one morning the regiment prepared to move. As the men waited eagerly, a man on horseback rode up to the colonel. Were these the regiment's orders? As the messenger galloped off, he called to the colonel, "Don't forget that box of cigars!" Once again, Henry feels let down. The messenger and the colonel are concerned about the details of everyday life, not with heroism. They are very much like Henry's mother.

As the regiment marches along, the men begin to feel that they are all in this together. They sing songs and make jokes. When a fat soldier tries to steal a horse from a house they pass, and a young girl runs after him and rescues the animal, everyone cheers her and laughs at the soldier. The more the other soldiers form a group, the more Henry feels like an outsider.

Henry starts a conversation with the loud soldier, whose name, we find out, is Wilson. In reply to Henry's persistent questions, Wilson says, "I s'pose I'll do as well as the rest.... I'm not going to skedaddle." "You ain't the bravest man in the world, are you?" asks Henry, who is feeling very uneasy. "No, I ain't," the loud soldier answers. "I said I was going to do my share of fighting-that's what I said. And I am, too. Who are you, anyhow? You talk as if you thought you was Napoleon Bonaparte." We know very well that Henry doesn't feel like Napoleon, but we can see why he sounds that way. Henry is trying to make himself feel better about his own doubts, and he winds up insulting the loud soldier. After this discussion, Henry feels even worse.

NOTE:

Henry is doing something that everybody does sometimes. He feels different from everybody else, but because he's embarrassed to tell people why, he sounds too sure of himself. He winds up feeling very much alone and very sorry for himself.


Crane's description of the army's preparations for its march is striking. In the opening paragraph of Chapter 1 Crane had referred to the "red, eyelike gleam of hostile campfires." Now he tells us that: "From across the river the red eyes were still peering." This is the beginning of a practice Crane follows throughout the novel, referring to inanimate objects as if they were alive. For example, the regiment, finally on the move, "was now like one of those moving monsters wending with many feet.... There was an occasional flash and glimmer of steel from the backs of all these huge crawling reptiles. From the road came creakings and grumblings as some surly guns were dragged away." The army has become a crawling reptile, and the guns have taken on human emotions. Later, when the army pitches its new camp, "Tents sprang up like strange plants. Campfires, like red, peculiar blossoms, dotted the night." The effect of all this is to make the army seem to be part of nature, subject to forces larger than itself. It also heightens the impression that we have already gotten from the use of labels like "the tall soldier" and "the young soldier," that this is not so much a story about a specific regiment from New York State in the American Civil War as it is a timeless story.

Crane also uses these dramatic visual images to help us understand what is going on inside Henry's mind. In a paragraph that begins, "One morning, however, he [Henry] found himself in the ranks of his prepared regiment," Crane tells us that "In the eastern sky there was a yellow patch like a rug laid for the feet of the coming sun; and against it black and patternlike, loomed the gigantic figure of the colonel on a gigantic horse." Later, "As he looked all about him and pondered upon the mystic gloom.... Staring once at the red
eyes across the river, he conceived them to be growing larger, as the orbs of a row of dragons advancing. He turned toward the colonel and saw him lift his gigantic arm and calmly stroke his mustache."

Crane is again making inanimate objects human; the sun has feet that will step on the rug of a patch of sky. But here some of the personification is Henry's. He sees the enemy campfires as eyes, and imagines them as the eyes of approaching dragons. He also sees the colonel on his horse as "gigantic." Chances are, the colonel was no larger than any other man. As Henry observes him, silhouetted against the rising sun, we can both see the colonel in our own minds' eyes, and we can see Henry's vision of him as an enormous heroic figure. How disillusioning, then, when this gigantic figure, almost like a statue, turns out to be worrying over a box of cigars! Although the story is being told by a narrator, not by Henry, we are learning quite a lot about what is going on in Henry's mind. Henry is not saying to us, "I looked across the river," as he would if this were a first-person narrative. But instead of just telling us that Henry was afraid, or that Henry wanted to believe that war was heroic, Crane is letting us see the world through Henry's eyes.

Through these images he shows us what Henry sees, and that helps us understand what Henry feels. In this chapter we recognize that the focus of the book will be on Henry and his perceptions. As the chapter ends we see through Henry's eyes again. He imagines his fear as a monster with many tongues, and "He admitted that he would not be able to cope with this monster."

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