Summary and Analysis
Henry sees that the advancing soldiers are suddenly streaming out of the woods in full retreat. As they flee, they run straight toward his position, and soon he is surrounded by fearful, disoriented soldiers, determined to move to a safer position. Henry grabs one soldier and attempts to ask him why he is retreating, but the soldier has no intention of talking to Henry, and, when Henry doesn't release him, the soldier strikes him over the head with his rifle. Henry is badly dazed by the blow, and he struggles to stay conscious as he runs with the retreating soldiers.
Henry then hears "a cheery voice," the voice of a soldier who recognizes that Henry is hurting and who helps him walk along. The cheery-voiced soldier's conversation rambles over many topics. During this one-way conversation, the cheery soldier learns that Henry's regiment is the 304th. The two continue walking, they eventually arrive at the campsite of Henry's regiment, and the cheery soldier leaves him.
Ironically, the symbolic "red badge" which Henry receives in this chapter isn't a symbol of courage but rather of question, and, what's more, the red badge is delivered, not by an enemy, but by a comrade. Throughout the book, Henry has questioned everything — why he joined, whether he will stand and fight or run, and so on. It is significant to Henry's characterization that his red badge is not the result of contact with a bullet, but of contact with a question.
Another ironic twist results when the cheery-voiced soldier returns Henry to his regiment. The soldier feels that he is removing Henry from danger, but for Henry, who has thought about all the negative ramifications of his returning to his regiment, returning to his regiment actually places him in danger. The fact that Henry is "cheerily" delivered to his regiment is an ironic contrast to the sadness which he assumes must follow his explanation of his whereabouts.
Indeed, "As he [the cheery soldier] who had so befriended him was thus passing out of his [Henry's] life [after returning him to his regiment], it suddenly occurred to the youth that he had not once seen his face." This realization is also important to Henry's characterization; Henry has the opportunity to look into the face of happiness, but he doesn't do so, because he is so engrossed in his own sadness and doubt. He remains totally absorbed in himself — even the unselfish help of the cherry soldier isn't enough to jar Henry out of the conflict in his mind.
In this chapter, Crane uses similar colors to paint both images of war and nature's response to war. As Crane describes the battlefield, he uses words like "blue smoke," "blue haze," and "pink glare," and war is described as a "red animal." As he describes nature, he chooses words like "orange light," "purple shadows and darkness," and "a blue and somber sky." As seen in previous chapters, Crane, again, uses color imagery to focus on nature's influence on both man's environment and man's behavior.
The images of war created by Crane in this chapter make the war, including its setting in nature, its weapons, and its combatants, vividly understandable to the reader. Crane gives the war a body, including a face and a personality.