Summary and Analysis
Henry returns to walking along with the retreating soldiers. He worries that the soldiers may recognize that he has run from the battle and that they are looking at him and "contemplating the letters of guilt he felt burned into his brow." Indeed, he envies the wounded soldiers and wishes for an emblem of battle, his own "[little] red badge of courage," — the first reference to the novel's title and a symbol of bravery — rather than having the feelings of guilt which he must keep within. Henry sees "the spectral soldier" stumbling along, waving others away, wanting to be alone. On closer scrutiny, Henry realizes that this dying soldier is Jim Conklin.
Henry is overcome with grief at the sight of Jim's condition. Jim recognizes Henry and tells him that he has only one fear — that he may be run over by a battery coming along the road. He asks Henry to get him out of the road, to keep him safe, if a battery approaches; Henry is so overcome with emotion that he can't answer his friend except with wild gestures. At that point, the tattered soldier overtakes Henry, and the two try to help Jim, but he waves them off. Suddenly, Jim begins to run through the field, followed by Henry and the tattered soldier. Jim stops, and, after several body-shaking convulsions, he stands tall and then dies.
At the beginning of the chapter, Henry possesses a state of reason that allows him to feel guilty about running away. He feels ashamed that he has no wound like the others around him. He longs to carry a symbol of bravery, a wound, indicating that a more normal sense of honor has returned to his mind.
However, Henry seems incapable of acting bravely, even in this less dangerous setting. When Jim asks him to help him get out of the road if a battery comes along, Henry can't muster even the courage to give his friend the assurance that he will help him when the time comes. Henry still exists in a state of conflict between his desire to have courage and his inability to realize these desires in the face of reality. He remains an observer — even as his friend's body falls to the ground, he only stands and watches.
Jim's death is of great significance to Henry primarily because Jim was invincible in Henry's eyes. To see Jim mortally wounded brings Henry face-to-face with his own mortality. As for Jim, his actions appear to be totally consistent with his statements. He stated early on that he would be a team player — that if everybody ran, he would run, and if everybody stood and fought, he would fight. This is what he did, and, in so doing, he has been mortally wounded. As a result, he must find a place to die, so he leaves the road, moves into the field, and dies. This act is the act of a soldier who knows that his time is over, so he must move out of the way. Even though his time as a soldier has ended, the war has not ended, so he moves out of the way to allow the battles to continue.
Because Henry has not been a leader, he has relied on his comrades to be his leaders. When Jim, a true leader for Henry, is wounded and dies, Henry turns inward, a behavior which he has followed throughout the work. Henry does this in an attempt to protect himself psychologically. He does not want his dependence on others to be obvious. This reaction has been a consistent dimension of Henry's character.
The death of Jim isn't totally unexpected by the reader precisely because of the portrayal of this character. Jim's character has been identified as confident, if not overconfident, and the reader anticipates from earlier encounters with Jim that this overconfidence — in this type of war — can't be a good sign. Indeed, Jim's overconfidence foretells something tragic, and this foreshadowing comes to fruition with Jim's death.
This chapter allows the author to highlight, through dialogue, the dialect used by Henry, Jim, and the tattered soldier. Their conversations are battlefield simple, but profoundly sensitive. Crane's extended use of this dialect-filled dialogue helps lend additional realism to this bloody, sad scene, allowing the reader intimate access to the characters and their feelings.
In this chapter, Crane uses a unique combination of oxymoron (a rhetorical figure of speech which combines contradictory terms to form an image) and simile to make an image of the sun: "The sun was pasted in the sky like a [fierce] wafer." This word picture allows Crane, again, to use nature imagery as a contrast to the mundane drudgery of the life of a soldier.