The Red Badge of Courage By Stephen Crane Summary and Analysis Chapter 21

Summary

After repelling the enemy counterattack, Henry and the remainder of his regiment return to their lines where they are greeted with taunts and derogatory comments made by another regiment. Henry is angered by the comments, as are the lieutenant and the red-bearded officer. Henry looks back at the distance which the regiment covered in the charge, and he realizes, with surprise, that they really had not ventured very far from their line. He begins to think that the jeers of the greeting regiment are justified. However, as Henry reflects further on the charge, he feels quite happy and contented with his own personal performance during the battle.

As the men are resting, the general who recommended that the 304th lead the charge rides into the camp and confronts the colonel of the regiment and criticizes the efforts of the men. He wants to know why the regiment could not have gone another 100 feet across the lot. The regiment's colonel seems prepared to respond angrily to the critical officer; however, he backs down. The general leaves in a huff. The lieutenant, who overhears the general's remarks, begins to defend the regiment's efforts, but he is rebuffed by the colonel. The other soldiers, including Henry and Wilson, defend their efforts and recount their efforts with praise. The more they talk, the angrier they get with the general.

At this point, however, several soldiers begin to retell a conversation which they overheard between the colonel and the lieutenant. The colonel asked the lieutenant who was carrying the flag during the charge. When the lieutenant tells the colonel that it was Fleming, the colonel calls Henry a "jimhickey," a term of great praise. The lieutenant also tells the colonel that Wilson was at the front of the charge along with Henry. As a result of hearing these comments, both Henry and Wilson feel great pride and contentment with their efforts.

Analysis

When Henry and the regiment return to their lines after their charge, and after repelling the enemy's counterattack, they are greeted with derision by a waiting regiment. Henry's reaction is one of anger. The reader has seen Henry's anger approach the level of hate on other occasions in recent encounters with the enemy. Now Henry feels hate even for his fellow troops. He is an anger machine which could boil into hate for anything or anyone who challenges his courage or the courage of his regiment. This is quite a change from the fearful, doubting Henry whom the reader saw earlier in the book.

At the same time, Henry is also characterized as a realistic soldier. When he reviews the actions of his regiment in terms of the territory covered in the charge, he realizes that the distances covered "were trivial and ridiculous." He considers that perhaps the criticism of his regiment by the other regiment is justified. When he sees his disheveled regiment "gulping at their canteens," he feels disgust for their weakness because he thinks of his own behavior and performance during the charge and is quite pleased.

Thematically, this chapter continues to focus on duty and confidence. Henry knows that he has performed well. His commanding officer has praised him as a "jimhickey" soldier. He is initially angered by the criticism of the other regiment, but, on reflection, he can see their point. This shows maturity and confidence in his ability. As Henry's confidence grows, and as he learns the concept of duty, he is becoming an outstanding soldier.

The dialogue between the soldiers recorded at the end of the chapter makes extensive use of dialect. For example, one soldier says, "Well, sir, th' colonel met your lieutenant right by us — it was the damndest thing I ever heard — an' he ses: 'Ahem! Ahem!' he ses. 'Mr. Hasbrouck!' he ses, by the way, who was that lad what carried the flag?' he ses, . . ." This use of dialect allows the reader to see that soldiers are men, not machines. The soldiers have the same need for information, for praise, and for recognition, as well as the need to use the language which they know (their dialect) to share these needs with others — as do all human beings.

Finally, a tone of foreboding overshadows this chapter. There is an unsettling feeling that perhaps things are going too well psychologically and behaviorally for Henry. This is war, and war is unpredictable. The reader senses that Henry's newfound confidence and enthusiastic acceptance of duty are very fragile. They might shatter if, for example, something were to happen to the lieutenant, to Wilson, to Henry himself, or to another soldier who is close to Henry.

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