The Red Badge of Courage By Stephen Crane Summary and Analysis Chapter 8

Summary

The sound of a major battle stops Henry's flight. Indeed, it arouses his curiosity, so he makes his way back toward the battle through the forest. He first encounters a field with several dead soldiers. As he hurries past this field, he runs into many wounded men returning from the front lines for medical treatment. He sees several soldiers and one officer. One soldier, "a tattered man, fouled with dust blood, and powder stain from head to shoes," tries to befriend him. The man talks about the bravery shown by the regiment in the battle, but when he asks Henry where he is hit, Henry can't answer him because, of course, he has no wound, and he hurries away from his questioner.

Analysis

For human beings, as well as for nature's other creatures, curiosity may be stronger than fear, and Henry's curiosity gets the better of his fear. The battle sounds are too intriguing to ignore, so Henry reverses his retreat and heads back to the front. Crane writes, "He saw that it was an ironical thing for him to be running thus toward that which he had been at such pains to avoid. But he said, in substance to himself, that if the earth and the moon were about to clash, many persons would doubtless plan to get upon the roofs to witness the collision." This return to the front, then, isn't out of character because Henry's is a very normal reaction for any curious young person.

Stylistically, Crane again uses figurative language in this chapter to make his images of war and of nature come alive. His use of synesthesia (connecting two different senses, for example, color and sound, to create a unique image) is effective as he describes the battle as a "crimson roar." Also, the clarity of the simile used in the line, "The noise was as the voice of an eloquent being," and the nature personification in the line, "Sometimes the brambles formed chains and tried to hold him back," are very effective in developing images in the reader's mind.

Crane comments on the psychology of war as he speculates, through Henry's thoughts, on why soldiers do battle. Henry thinks that there is a false perception that each small battle will be reviewed in print, that heroes and heroic actions will be identified, and that those soldiers who perform heroically will be glorified for their accomplishments. In reality, however, Henry believes that individual accomplishments would appear in print only "under a meek and immaterial title." Nevertheless, Henry concludes that this idealization of battle isn't really bad because he assumes that if the soldiers really knew their insignificance, "in battle every one would surely run." This is Crane's view of war as revealed in Henry's thoughts.

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