The Red Badge of Courage By Stephen Crane Summary and Analysis Chapter 24

Summary

As Henry and Wilson rest, they see a large number of troop movements and changes in artillery positions. These movements and changes are not occurring in a rapid, hurried fashion by men preparing for battle, but, rather, in a slower, more leisurely fashion by men beginning to withdraw.

The officers begin to organize the troops for a return to their previous position. The regiment links up with the other regiments in the brigade, as well as with a mass of other troops, and the entire division moves away from the front. The importance of these linkages and this massive movement prompts Henry to say to Wilson, "Well, it's all over." Wilson's reply, "B'Gawd, it is," sends Henry into a detailed, introspective assessment of his entire war experience to this point.

It then begins to rain. As Henry walks in this rain shower, he realizes that "he had rid himself of the red sickness of battle. The sultry nightmare was in the past." As he continues on the road back to his camp, he looks to the sky, and he feels "an existence of soft and eternal peace" — just as the sun breaks through the clouds.

Analysis

In this last chapter, Henry mentally reviews the three significant stages of his battlefield experience. Regarding his second battle and his subsequent flight from the front, Henry attributes that behavior to nothing more than "the wild mistakes and ravings of a novice who didn't comprehend." Indeed that is probably a fair assessment since he was not the first soldier to run, nor would he be the last, and he did recover his courage to make a fine impression on his lieutenant at the next battle. Indeed his captain identified him as a fierce "wild cat". Also, then, when he led the troops as flag bearer, he was very courageous and, rightly so, because he stared into the face of the enemy and didn't back down. Henry's actions show great courage.

The only behavior which truly rests negatively on him — which truly places a heavy felling of guilt on him — is his treatment of the tattered soldier. When both are in the field, and the tattered soldier, wounded and disoriented, seeks to help Jim, Henry loses patience with him and leaves him. This "vision of cruelty," this "somber phantom of the desertion in the field," this recognition that "the light of his soul flickered with shame" troubles Henry greatly; however, he is able to rationalize this behavior because he decides to use this "sin" as a future force to control his "egotism," as a way to be sure that he remains always humble. He reasons that if he ever begins to feel that his courage exceeds all others, he need only remember that he didn't treat a wounded companion with decency, and that memory will work to bring back his humility. Indeed, for him to reason this way, he must truly be a "man," both of and in war, because he will face future battles, and, as the reader has seen, he has shown the courage and bravery needed to face the enemy squarely.

Henry's comments both about his bravery and courage and about his humility are not idle chatter. Henry has the right and the privilege to "talk the talk" because he has "walked the walk" militarily, so the reader must believe that the "sin" of deserting the tattered soldier will help him control his tendency now to be the most courageous and bravest "man" in the regiment. Indeed, his actions since that incident have proven him to be just that.

Crane concludes this chapter, and this novel, with a series of color images to support the various stages of thinking that Henry experiences on the walk back to the camp. Crane paints these vivid images to reinforce both Henry's thoughts and battles, as well as the environment, both mental and physical, which now live in the mind of the reader.

Symbolically, the red badge of courage is the red badge which brought Henry courage. Only after Henry is hit over the head during his flight from the front is he is able to clarify his understanding of his role of what it means to be a soldier, to return to his regiment, and to then become one of the bravest soldiers — if not the bravest, most courageous soldier — in the regiment.

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