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This chapter is interesting for its portrayal of the change in the young soldier's
character. Now that both he and his secret are safe, he begins to take
pride in the events of the previous day, seeing himself as brave and manly.
Some soldiers ran away in terror; he fled with dignity. He realizes that
much of what happens in battle is by chance, and that you can get away
with a lot. He remembers that Wilson, too, had been afraid on the eve
of the first battle, and handing back his friend's letters he feels a
little superior to him. The image of a flower appears again, but now it
is neither tents nor shells that flower, but the young soldier's confidence.
Most of the familiar imagery in this chapter is likewise ironic. Henry's
legs are "self-confident," he is "chosen of the gods,"
he has faced "dragons." In earlier chapters these images had
real power. Now Crane employs the kind of high-flown language he often
uses when he is making fun of his characters' pretensions. The young soldier
realizes that he will be able to go home with a fine fund of war stories.
Is Crane being ironic here? Or has the young soldier really learned a
kind of courage? We'll find out in the next chapters.
The next day the young soldier's regiment relieves troops that have been fighting in the trenches. Kept there for a while, some of the soldiers begin to criticize their leaders' hesitation. The young soldier, to his amazement, hears himself complaining that everything is the general's fault-"Don't we do all that men can?" Another soldier asks him whether he thinks he fought the whole battle yesterday. Instantly the young soldier is terrified: the question "pierced" him, and his legs "quaked," almost as if he were in battle again. But the other man didn't know the truth. The youth relaxed, but in response "He suddenly became a modest person."
The word pierced suggests that the other soldier's question is almost like a bullet, reminding us of the end of Chapter 10 where the young soldier begins to feel that the scorn of his comrades, not the Confederate soldiers, is the real enemy. And it's interesting that his legs are quaking now, because the feeling of his legs is always an indication of how brave or frightened the young soldier feels.
This chapter, too, reveals the young soldier's developing character. Before the first battle he had been preoccupied with the question of whether he would run from fire (although he also complained to Jim Conklin about the commanders). This time he boasts about the regiment's bravery, and is critical of the generals, even though he knows exactly how brave he himself had been. Shame and fear shut him up for awhile, but soon he begins to grouse again. The young soldier is still struggling with himself.