The Red Badge of Courage By Stephen Crane Summary and Analysis Chapter 2

Summary

The regiment continues to rest, and Henry remains deep in his own thoughts, contemplating the possibility of battle and questioning his ability to cope with battle when it comes. The other soldiers, in Henry's view, don't seem to share his worries. Indeed, some are jovial and appear to be excited about the prospect of engaging in combat. Henry concludes that his comrades are all heroes without fear, but on further reflection, he feels that, perhaps, they are all as fearful as he, yet they suppress that fear.

Summary

The regiment continues to rest, and Henry remains deep in his own thoughts, contemplating the possibility of battle and questioning his ability to cope with battle when it comes. The other soldiers, in Henry's view, don't seem to share his worries. Indeed, some are jovial and appear to be excited about the prospect of engaging in combat. Henry concludes that his comrades are all heroes without fear, but on further reflection, he feels that, perhaps, they are all as fearful as he, yet they suppress that fear.

Early one morning several days later, the regiment stands ready to move out. As the regiment waits in the predawn, a horseman brings the news to move the regiment to a new position. As the night turns to morning, the regiment crosses the hills. At the end of the day's march, the regiment camps in a field. Henry rests, and as he rests, he thinks of his life on the farm and wishes he were there. His thoughts are interrupted when one of the loud, boisterous soldiers, Wilson, walks by, and Henry begins a conversation with him.

Wilson speaks confidently of the upcoming battle. When Henry asks him if he might run when the fighting begins, he laughs the comment off. However, when Henry presses him on the issue, Wilson angrily challenges Henry's authority to question his bravery. That night, Henry falls into a sleep disturbed by doubts and fears.

Analysis

Chapter 2 continues to focus on Henry's internal conflict about his bravery, or lack thereof. Henry is fixated on proving his courage, and his obsession with the issue causes him to become distant and removed from the other members of the regiment. He feels like an outcast, as if he is strangely not like the other soldiers. Henry's feelings of isolation foreshadow his physical separation and retreat from the regiment later in the novel.

A mainstay of Crane's stylistic techniques is his use of imagery to develop the mood of foreboding which permeates the novel. Chapter 2 contains several good examples of this imagery. Selected vocabulary words, similes (the comparing of one entity to another dissimilar entity, usually using the words, "like" or "as"), metaphors (the comparing of one entity to another, dissimilar entity by suggesting that the first entity is the other entity), and other figures of speech develop this somber, dark mood. For example, Henry lives in a "mystic gloom," a phrase which exemplifies Crane's talent in selecting the perfect words to express a mood. An excellent example of Crane's use of simile occurs in his description of the regiments: they "were like two serpents crawling from the cavern of the night."

Imagery for the impending battle is also developed using similar techniques. Fire and monster imagery combines with dark and gloom imagery. The battle is "the blaze" and "a monster"; the combatants are "serpents crawling from hill to hill"; Henry's regiment is a "blasting host" (a killing machine); "red eyes" (enemy campfires) watch across rivers. All these images, which are metaphors, create an oppressive mood of foreboding.

Another dimension of Crane's writing that becomes obvious in Chapter 2 is the use of the third person terms for major characters. The tall soldier (Jim), the loud soldier (Wilson), and the youth (Henry) are identified in this manner to allow Crane greater latitude in making objective comments about the characters' behaviors. Only through conversations between and among characters are characters' real names revealed. Not identifying characters by name engages the reader's imagination to draw pictures and conclusions about these characters. By appealing to the imagination in this way, the reader is drawn closer to the characters.

In Chapters 1 and 2, Crane uses various characters to show the reader different responses to the central issue of the novel — bravery under fire. The practical confidence of Wilson contrasts with the all-encompassing doubt that Henry experiences. At the same time, the reader recalls the somewhat humorous, carefree, easy-come-easy-go attitude of Jim Conklin's reply to Henry at the close of Chapter 1 after Henry asks him if he might run when the battle starts. These responses represent the spectrum of feelings which combatants in war may feel. That Crane chooses to focus on Henry's response to war, that of fear and doubt, implies that this is a response that all soldiers have to war at one time in their careers.

Back to Top

Take the Quiz

Henry Fleming enlists as a soldier for which army?




Quiz