The Red Badge of Courage By Stephen Crane Summary and Analysis Chapter 17

Summary

Henry and his regiment are in a defensive position, awaiting the charge of the enemy. Henry becomes increasingly agitated and angry because the enemy never seems to tire, and his regiment is dog-tired. He peers through the smoke and haze hoping to catch a glimpse of the enemy. All the while, his anger continues to build.

When the charge does come, Henry fires so often that the barrel of his rifle becomes blisteringly hot. He continues to fire until a comrade tells him that he is firing at nothing because the enemy has withdrawn. His lieutenant is overjoyed with his efforts. Indeed, the lieutenant says, "By heavens, if I had ten thousand wild cats like you, I could tear the stomach out of this war in less than a week." Henry is such a fighting machine that his comrades now look upon him as "a war devil."

When Henry realizes that the enemy has disengaged, he drops to the ground exhausted and burning with thirst. The troops see that even though the enemy has lost many men, this respite will be short lived, so they rest in preparation for the next battle.

Analysis

Crane shows a new characterization of Henry in this chapter. Henry realizes that he is, in fact, a soldier and that he must kill or be killed. Henry becomes angry with the idea that the enemy never seems to tire. In Henry's mind, "Those other men seemed never to grow weary; they were fighting with their old speed. He had a wild hate for the relentless foe." Henry is a changed person; he is now a soldier.

In allowing Henry to reflect on what happens in this small battle, Crane further reveals Henry's evolving character. For example, Crane states that "These incidents made the youth ponder. It was revealed to him that he was a barbarian, a beast." What's more, Henry comes to the realization that "By this struggle, he had overcome obstacles which he had admitted to be mountains. They had fallen like paper peaks, and he was now what he called a hero." This is the new Henry, the soldier-hero. The new confidence that was borne of a lie has finally become the truth.

This chapter shifts the reader into a different relationship with Henry. To this point, the reader has seen Henry move between paranoia and schizophrenia. Henry has been a person for whom the reader has had little respect and less sympathy. By the end of this chapter, however, the reader is willing to forgive and to forget all that has happened and to agree that Henry, if not a hero, is certainly a courageous, confident soldier.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

Henry Fleming enlists as a soldier for which army?




Quiz