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The youth found a place to walk where the tattered soldier could not catch up to him. But he still felt guilty about being with this group of wounded soldiers and not being hurt himself. He wished that he had a wound, a "red badge of courage."
This is the first place in the book that the title phrase, "the red badge of courage," appears.
He came alongside the ghostly soldier, who walked stiffly, and seemed to be looking for a place to die. Suddenly the youth recognized him, and screamed: "Gawd! Jim Conklin!" It was the tall soldier, his old friend. "Hello, Henry," the dying man replied, and explained that he had worried about the youth during the battle in which he had been wounded.
Henry tried to put his arms around his friend, but the wounded man wanted to walk on his own. As they went along, a terrified look crossed the tall soldier's face, and he told Henry that he was afraid he would fall and be run over by artillery wagons. Henry fervently promised to make certain that that wouldn't happen. The tall soldier continued to beg for reassurance, saying "I've allus been a pretty good feller, ain't I? An' it ain't much t' ask, is it?... I'd do it fer you, wouldn't I, Henry?" Henry's only answer is to sob. But as suddenly as he had become afraid, the tall soldier seemed to forget his fears, and brushed Henry aside.
Then the tattered soldier, from whom Henry had run away in shame, came up. He told Henry that a battery was coming through, and that he ought to get the tall soldier off the road to safety. Henry led his friend into the field, when suddenly the dying man began to run. Henry and the tattered man chased him, but Jim kept begging to be left alone. As Henry and the tattered man followed, "They began to have thoughts of a solemn ceremony. There was something ritelike in these movements of the doomed soldier. And there was a resemblance in him to a devotee of a mad religion.... They were awed and afraid."
At last, Jim stood still. Henry and the tattered man realized that he had
found the right place. Standing up straight, his hands at his sides, "He
was waiting with patience for something that he had come to meet. He was
at the rendezvous." The dying man's chest began to heave. Again Henry
tried to comfort his friend, and again Jim pushed him away. Then Jim began
to shake. He fell down, and his "body seemed to bounce a little way
from the earth. 'God!' said the tattered soldier." Henry, who had
"watched, spellbound, this ceremony at the place of meeting,"
ran to his friend. Through the flap of his blue jacket, Henry saw that
Jim's side looked "as if it had been chewed by wolves." Henry
turned toward the battlefield, shaking his fist in fury. Above them, "the
red sun was pasted in the sky like a wafer."
This chapter is the symbolic heart of The Red Badge of Courage, and the subject of much discussion about the novel's meaning. The religious imagery in this chapter is very powerful indeed. Jim's motions as death approaches seem "like a solemn ceremony," "ritelike," and Jim resembles "a devotee of a mad religion."
Some readers identify Jim Conklin with Jesus Christ-their initials are the same. Jim is described as spectral or ghostly, perhaps reminding us of the Holy Ghost. Like Christ, Jim has wounds on his hands and his sides. Some readers even think that the way Jim's body fell as he died-it "seemed to bounce a little way from the earth"- represents the Resurrection.
A strong argument for the identification of Jim with Jesus Christ is Jim's behavior throughout the novel. In the first chapter Jim is the bearer of good tidings (although they do turn out not to be true). The other men in the company seem to recognize his leadership. When Henry is upset about the coming fight, Jim is calm and philosophical; he comforts Henry. He does not boast like the loud soldier, but he is uncomplaining and ready to take whatever comes-including, in this chapter, death. But even in his final moments Jim's concern is for others. He had worried about Henry's safety, he tells his friend when he meets up with him. Begging Henry to help get him out of the road, he cries, "I'd do it fer you."
This chapter's closing line is the most famous in the novel, indeed, one of the most famous in all of American literature. Some people who have written about The Red Badge of Courage have called the line contrived and show-offy. Others have tried to show that Crane got the image of the red wafer from Rudyard Kipling's novel, The Light That Failed, which was published in 1891. But most critics have been interested in the meaning of the image, not its source. Some think that Crane is describing the way the sun actually looks when viewed through fog or (after a battle) heavy smoke-red and flat, like a wafer. Others believe that the comparison Crane is making is to a wafer of sealing wax, and that that is why he uses the word "pasted." But the most debate has come from the interpretation that the wafer is a communion wafer. People who support this meaning also see Jim Conklin as a Christ figure, whose death redeems Henry.
In deciding what you think about the meaning of the last line, you might remember the last time (in Chapter 5) that an episode closed with an image of the sun. Then the sun streamed down beautifully when the battle appeared to have ended. Is there any relationship between that sun and this red one? (Remember that red in this novel has always been the color of war.) You might compare Henry's reaction to Jim Conklin's death to his reaction to finding the dead soldier in the cathedral of trees in Chapter 7. The first time he confronted a dead man, Henry recoiled in horror. As Jim falls, Henry shakes his hand in the direction of the battlefield and yells, "Hell!" Has this any bearing on the possibility that Jim may represent Jesus Christ?