Summary and Analysis
As the regiment prepares to move out, Henry and Wilson are marching together. Henry realizes that he is still carrying the letters which Wilson had given him when Wilson thought that he was going to die in battle. With this realization, Henry becomes confident, almost swaggering. He decides not to mention the letters to Wilson, and instead rejoices, knowing that the secret of the letters gives him the power to snub any questions that Wilson may ask him about his head wound.
Henry feels superior to his friend, and he begins to rationalize his former behavior. He looks with disdain on the other soldiers who ran because, of course, their running could not compare to his running. His retreat was heroic, while theirs was tragic.
When Wilson asks for his letters back, Henry feels magnanimous in returning them without saying anything derogatory or deprecating. He feels that he is now "an individual of extraordinary virtues," and he looks forward to returning home to tell of the glories of war.
Henry's rationalization of his actions and his delusions of grandeur reach their apex in this chapter. When Henry realizes that he still holds Wilson's letters, he is suddenly transformed into a powerful being. He takes his strength from Wilson's weakness. Indeed, in thinking about this packet of letters, Henry's "self pride was entirely restored." Beyond that, he begins to believe that he really has accomplished something great. In his thinking, he builds his case for greatness to the point that "He returned to his old belief in the ultimate, astounding success of his life" and "He saw plainly that he was the chosen of some gods."
The reader may wonder how remembering the letters could bring about such a change in Henry; however, Crane has shown that Henry has had previous mood swings, and his confidence has always been related to his mood rather than to reality.
Crane reveals in this chapter a person who rationalizes his behavior totally, a personality with delusions of grandeur — but with no basis for these delusions — except for the idea that others' weaknesses are greater than his. It becomes doubtful whether Henry can ever achieve true greatness since his only source of confidence comes from delighting in the weakness of others.
This entire chapter is a study in the rationalizing of behavior. Henry has made a monumental shift in his position, a shift from doubt to confidence to duty, a shift which overtly is based upon delusion. The shift appears to have no basis in reality; however, for Henry, fantasy may be reality, and, if this is the case, this shift could be permanent.