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Free Study Guide-The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane-Online Summary
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As the Youth marches out, the sound of fighting can be heard in the close distance. His regiment is sent to relieve a command that has been fighting in the trenches. Once they are in position, the sounds of war are so loud that no one can hold a conversation. While there is a lull in the gunfire, the men tell stories of disasters, particularly about the officers.

The Youth seems to forget his shameful behavior and begins to rage against the generals, while Wilson quietly defends them. In denouncing the commander, Henry shouts out that "we fight like the devil. . . we do all that we can." He is shocked to hear himself say these ironic words and feels guilty about them, fearing that he will be questioned over his right to speak of bravery in fighting. Wilson sternly reminds him that they have still not won the war. The Youth blames the lack of victory on the general. Someone says to the boasting Henry, "Mebbe yeh think yeh fit the hull battle yestirday." The Youth, quickly brought back to reality, feels pierced by the taunt and grows modest and silent.

When the regiment is halted, the Youth complains about the lack of organization or meaning in the war. "We're always being chased around like rats! . . . Nobody seems to know where we go or why we go. . . nobody knows what it's done for." Wilson argues with Henry about his judgment, and the Lieutenant finally tells them to stop. He also warns that they have only ten minutes until the next fight begins. The soldiers, tense and exhausted, stand like "men tied to stakes."


The Youth's loud boasting and his uncharacteristic argumentative attitude belies his fear and anxiety. He still possesses deep-rooted guilt about deserting the battle yesterday; he also fears the upcoming battle and his reaction to it. Wilson, who was previously the boastful one, is quiet and stern by contrast. He supports the officers and defends the fighting. He also reminds Henry that they have not yet won the war.

The Youth's explanation of the war captures the spirit of helplessness that is felt by most of the soldiers. Since it is the military, they have to obey orders, even though they do not agree with them. They believe the officers are incompetent and do not care about them as individuals. They are only a number, one of the regiment. Henry says that a soldier is like "a kitten in a bag," imprisoned and moved from place to place by an unknown commander. As if to prove he is right, a lieutenant shouts out, "You boys shut right up! . . . All you've got t' do is to fight."

Crane ends the chapter on the disturbing image of the men standing waiting for the next battle as if they were tied to stakes, like animals about to be slaughtered or criminals about to be punished. Unfortunately, the soldiers can do nothing about their plight. It is a very naturalistic picture of war.

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Free Study Guide-The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane-Free Booknotes


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