Summary and Analysis
Soon after leaving the tattered soldier, Henry walks up a small hill which overlooks a road. He sees two groups of soldiers on the road, one in retreat and one heading to the front. As he watches the two groups, he continues thinking about his situation. On the one hand, he feels that the retreating soldiers have vindicated his decision to run. On the other hand, he sees the enthusiasm, purpose, and drive of the advancing soldiers, and this inspires him to think about joining their column.
He begins mentally arguing whether to join the troops, including assessing that he has no rifle and that he won't able to find his regiment. Just as he overcomes those doubts and is about to rejoin the advancing force, a greater doubt grips him. He wonders how he will explain his disappearance to his comrades once he returns to the front, and the more he considers their reactions to any answers that he might give them, the more he realizes that he will be open to great criticism and ridicule. At the conclusion of this internal debate, his courage is depleted, doubt wins out, and his resolve to rejoin the advancing troops is lost.
In this chapter, Crane again focuses on Henry's mental debate. The reader sees Henry's thoughts swing, in just a few pages, from elation to depression. At one moment, Henry fantasizes about how glorious it might be if he were to die in battle. Then, in the next instant, he counts the many reasons why he can't join the battle. The realization that he can't go back to the battle, where he might face ridicule, sends him into a fit of self-loathing — he says of himself, ". . . he was the most unutterably selfish man in existence." These swings in emotion reveal Henry's instability, an instability compounded by the actions which he has taken and by his deteriorating physical condition.
Color plays an important part in describing Henry's mental condition and his environment in this chapter. Henry experiences "the black weight of his woe"; he is both "a blue desperate figure" and "a blue, determined figure"; he fantasizes that he "stood before a crimson and steel assault"; he "soared on the red wings of war"; the army was "a blue machine." All these colors provide a bright contrast to the drab condition of Henry, and they are supportive of the beauty of nature which continues to shine through the death, dirt, and grime of war. Although these colors do not relate to actual images in nature (these colors are associated with the activities of men in war), Crane uses nature to describe actions associated with men. In effect, these colors do not focus so much on nature's beauty, rather on nature's influence on all creation.
It is also interesting to note that it isn't until this chapter that the reader learns Henry's full name — Henry Fleming. The presentation of the full name comes through one of Henry's imagined encounters with his comrades — this time when his comrades connect his name with his running away: "Where's Henry Fleming He run, didn't 'e? Oh, my!" The use of Henry's full name indicates the strength of his fear of being discovered as a runner; there is no place to hide when someone knows your full name.