The Red Badge of Courage By Stephen Crane Summary and Analysis Chapter 3

Summary

The regiment rests during the second day of their march, and that night, they cross a bridge and sleep again. On the morning of the third day, they again move out and march to a forest. They remain there for several days.

Summary

The regiment rests during the second day of their march, and that night, they cross a bridge and sleep again. On the morning of the third day, they again move out and march to a forest. They remain there for several days.

On "one gray dawn" the whole regiment begins to run as if running toward a battle, but there is no battle. The regiment walks and then halts, and the soldiers continue to move from place to place. There is much grumbling among the men because of the constant walking and stopping. On occasion, the regiment sees skirmishers in the distance and hears the sounds of battle. The regiment comes upon a dead soldier, and Henry tries "to read in dead eyes the answer to the Question." Henry continues to challenge, internally, the intelligence of the generals who are directing the troop movements, and he feels hatred toward the lieutenant who enforces troop discipline by keeping him marching in rank.

Henry considers that if he were to die quickly, he could end his anguish. The regiment comes upon a battle in the distance, and the men begin to prepare for battle. As the chapter ends, the loud soldier (Wilson) tells Henry that he expects to die in battle, and he hands Henry a packet which he asks Henry to take to his family.

Analysis

Throughout most of Chapter 3, the major characters behave just as they have in Chapters 1 and 2.

Jim continues to accept everything that happens as part of a grand plan. He shows no worry. In Crane's words, "The philosophical, tall soldier measured a sandwich of cracker and pork and swallowed it in a nonchalant manner." And later in the chapter Crane writes, "He [Jim] accepted new environments and circumstances with great coolness, eating from his haversack at every opportunity."

Henry's characterization is also consistent. His fears persist, and his self-doubt hasn't changed. His reactions to his environment — both to the countryside and the Confederate soldiers — become predictable. For example, when the regiment covered the same ground in both the morning and afternoon, Henry was comfortable the second time around because he had been there before. He knew the land. As Crane says of Henry, "The landscape then ceased to threaten the youth. He had been close to it and become familiar with it." However, as the troops entered fresh fields, Crane says, ". . . his [Henry's] fears of stupidity and incompetence reassailed him." At one point his fears become so great that he wants to die so that he can silence his doubts. Henry's thoughts in this chapter continue to develop the themes of fear, doubt, duty, confidence, and glory, themes which have been apparent from the opening chapter.

Henry's reaction to entering new territory is predictable, especially considering that, for any soldier, entering new ground may bring combat. The troop movement described in this chapter is especially trying for Henry because entering of new ground could bring with it his first taste of combat. It is only natural, therefore that a new recruit would be very fearful of new territory and very comfortable covering old ground. The issue here is fear of the unknown, a fear common to all people, and soldiers face a higher price for venturing into the unknown than do regular citizens. As a soldier gains experience in covering new territory, he gains control of his fear. This pattern of reducing fear through gaining experience characterizes Henry's transition throughout the novel.

Henry's youthful confidence reasserts itself in a strange way in Chapter 3. At one point, Henry fears even the shadows in the woods, and he concludes that he and his comrades are trapped. He blames the generals for allowing this to happen. Henry thinks, "The generals were idiots to send them marching into a regular pen." He feels that "There was but one pair of eyes in the corps" (his). This implies, of course, that Henry thinks that he knows more about waging war than the officers do. This observation comes from a soldier who has never been in a battle. Even so, this reaction is probably not unusual for a very nervous, worried young man who continues to anticipate an impending battle and all the dangers associated with it.

Jim and Henry's behaviors in this chapter simply continue what has been established about them in previous chapters. However, at the end of the chapter, Wilson does something that shows the reader a different side of his character. Hearing the sounds of battle, Wilson speaks openly about his fears of death. This is the first time in the book that a character other than Henry expresses fear about the impending battle, and the reader sees that Henry is not truly alone in his thoughts.

Wilson's comments represent the comments of all men in battle. If Wilson the pragmatic, somewhat boastful soldier fears death, then it follows that this fear probably resides in all soldiers facing battle. If this is the case, then this fear is not a sign of weakness; on the contrary, it is probably a sign of normalcy. This revelation is important for soldiers who equate fear with weakness and, as a result, begin to develop self-doubts. At this point, Henry is such a person, and Wilson's comments provide some solace for Henry.

Stylistically, Crane again uses metaphor and other kinds of figurative language to develop the images which grasp the reader's mind. The regiment is sometimes a person, sometimes a monster, sometimes a reptile. The reader loses sight of the fact that the regiment is a unit of individual men. This continued use of personification creates the feeling that a battle is a battle between regimental monsters. For example, Crane describes the regiment's crossing of a river in animal terms when he writes, "The regiment slid down a bank and wallowed across a little stream." These references and images symbolize the monsters within Henry — monsters of fear, doubt, and loneliness, which he continues to try to suppress, but which don't retreat. Wilson's death revelation provides additional fuel for the growth of these monsters.

Crane uses animal imagery to describe the elements of war, including armies and weapons. The use of animal imagery allows Crane to separate the inhumanity of the war animal from the humanity of the individual soldier. Indeed, an army (the animal) has appendages, including divisions, regiments, and companies. These appendages work together to provide a system for this animal, this monster, to do battle with an enemy animal. Crane uses this animal imagery to contrast the army with the individual soldier. The animal seems to have no concerns for anything; individual soldiers show all emotions. The soldier must cast aside his individuality to become a part of the animal needed to do battle.

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