Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
The roar of the battle slowly softens until all is quiet. The regiment receives orders to retrace its way. They rejoin the brigade in a column and march toward the road. The Youth tells Wilson, "Well, it's all over." His words are filled with double meaning. The battle is all over, but so is Henry's greatest fear. He has fought the enemy and stayed the course, even becoming a leader to his regiment. He is proud of his performance. The old worries are behind him... "it's all over."
The Youth's mind is still undergoing a subtle change. "It took moments for it to cast off battleful ways and resume its accustomed course of thought." Henry begins to study his deeds, his failures, and his achievements. He looks at them in spectator fashion and knows that he has not been the determining factor in their outcome; there is some bigger, more powerful force that he cannot control. He feels gleeful and unregretting at accepting this truth and decides that his public deeds "were paraded in great and shining prominence." The Youth finally accepts that he is good.
The ghost of his first flight again appears to Henry and dances in his memory. He feels reproached by the thought of the Tattered Soldier who, though wounded himself, had fretted concerning the imagined wound in the Youth. He feels guilty about deserting the soldier, letting him die alone in the field. Also, he still feels some fear that his desertion may some day be discovered, but the fear is minimal by comparison to his previous obsession about it. The true nightmare of the "red sickness of battle" is in the past.
The Youth, instead, feels a quiet assurance about his own humanity. Like other men, he has fears and weaknesses, but he accepts himself for who he is. Henry knows that his soul has changed; he smiles when he realizes that the "world is a world for him." He lets the rain wash over him, rinsing away his past fears and worries. He turns to images of tranquil skies and an existence of eternal peace; and "over the river a golden ray of sun came through hosts of leaden rain clouds."
The battle is over, and the soldiers are headed back to where they started from two days earlier. It is Crane's way of showing that in spite of all the fighting and bloodshed, not much has changed. The reader is again made to question the purpose of war.
Henry, however, has changed. He can now look at his performance and judge it as acceptable. Although he still regrets his first flight from battle and his desertion of the Tattered Soldier in his moment of need, he can forgive himself and not feel too guilty. Although he knows he has performed well in later battles, he is not overly proud. He accepts his weaknesses and his strengths and acknowledges that both are just part of being human.
The Youth is truly at peace with himself and glad to be alive. As a result, he again notices the beauty of the natural world around him. There are tranquil skies and golden rays of sunshine to drive away the darkness and the rain of life.