The Red Badge of Courage By Stephen Crane Summary and Analysis Chapter 5

Summary

As Henry waits for his regiment to enter the battle, he thinks about earlier days and people he has known. His thoughts are interrupted by the words, "Here they come!" The enemy initiates its charge, and the battle rages as Henry's regiment tries to repel the enemy forces. Henry becomes a member of a fighting team, and he shows great strength and resolve as he loads, fires, and reloads his rifle — even while others are being wounded and killed around him. The officers encourage all the troops to keep firing, and they reprimand those whose fear overcomes them. Henry doesn't apparently suffer from these fears. He continues to fire and reload, to fire and reload — even wishing that he could do so faster. Then the fighting stops, and the enemy retreats. The regiment holds its ground, and the soldiers are jubilant. Henry suddenly feels suffocated by the smoke, by the event. He takes a drink from his canteen to clear his head.

Summary

As Henry waits for his regiment to enter the battle, he thinks about earlier days and people he has known. His thoughts are interrupted by the words, "Here they come!" The enemy initiates its charge, and the battle rages as Henry's regiment tries to repel the enemy forces. Henry becomes a member of a fighting team, and he shows great strength and resolve as he loads, fires, and reloads his rifle — even while others are being wounded and killed around him. The officers encourage all the troops to keep firing, and they reprimand those whose fear overcomes them. Henry doesn't apparently suffer from these fears. He continues to fire and reload, to fire and reload — even wishing that he could do so faster. Then the fighting stops, and the enemy retreats. The regiment holds its ground, and the soldiers are jubilant. Henry suddenly feels suffocated by the smoke, by the event. He takes a drink from his canteen to clear his head.

As Henry surveys the field, he realizes that other battles are continuing even as he rests. He recognizes that his regiment's "battle" was but one small skirmish in a whole series of conflicts. He is encouraged by the beauty of the flags blowing in the wind, and he marvels at the brightness of the sky and land even in the midst of the smoke and chaos.

Analysis

Once Henry hears the words, "Here they come!." he is a changed soldier. Henry seems to totally forget the fears that have almost overwhelmed him up to this point in the novel.

Henry transforms from a fearful, doubtful, questioning recruit to a confident, aggressive, regimental soldier in only one battle. Henry stands side by side with other recruits and with experienced veterans — all working together for a single cause — to hold the line. As Crane tells the reader, "He [Henry] became not a man but a member. He felt that something of which he was a part — a regiment, an army, a cause, a country — was in a crisis. He was welded into a common personality which was dominated by a single desire." This is a phenomenon common to all human beings. In times of trouble, people find strength in numbers. Henry is no exception. He stands up in battle, fights, and helps the regiment repel the enemy.

Henry' reaction is the reaction of any soldier. If he is to fight, he must be energized and focused. This attack by the enemy has angered and exasperated him, and, as a result, he wants to remove this source of irritation, in this case the enemy. His fears are surpassed by his anger and frustration, and he fires his rifle repeatedly as a result. It is not until the enemy retreats that he realizes what he and his comrades have accomplished.

Henry's ability to recognize that the battle just completed is but one part of a larger war is significant because it shows Henry getting outside himself and looking at the bigger picture. To this point, Henry has been very focused on himself. This ability to get beyond himself and to see the larger issues shows a developing maturity on the part of Henry — something not seen before in him.

After the skirmish, as he rests, Henry drinks, and he observes the beauty and brightness of the sun and sky. He recognizes nature's beauty even in this chaos. He marvels at nature's patience with man. Through these insights, Crane creates the impression that nature is in control of man. Henry's behavior from the beginning of the book is natural behavior: his fears, his doubts, his anger, his longing. Then, when he engages in battle, he comes to realize that he is a member of a group, and that there is strength in group membership. This behavior is part of the natural order of human life, and Crane points out that nature plays a prominent role in the lives of people and in this work.

Crane also continues to use figurative language to create powerful images in the mind of the reader. This chapter includes several similes which describe the battle vividly, including, "his eyeballs were about to crack like hot stones"; "The man at the youth's elbow was babbling something soft and tender like the monologue of a babe"; and "The guns squatted in a row like savage chiefs."

Also, Crane uses symbolism as the reader sees the flag representing inspiration, hope, and beauty — almost equally with nature — in this chapter. Crane tells the reader that "The youth felt the old thrill at the sight of the emblem. They [the flags] were like beautiful birds strangely undaunted in a storm." The flag takes on added importance for Henry because in Chapter 19, the color sergeant, the flag bearer, is killed in battle, and, in Chapter 20, Henry, after scuffling with Wilson to win the right to hold the flag, assumes the responsibilities of flag bearer, exhibiting great enthusiasm and courage in that role.

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