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As the regiment, having won its skirmish, withdraws, Henry Fleming evaluates his experiences in battle and recognizes that he has achieved "a quiet manhood." Religious imagery is at work here. At first the young soldier recalls his heroism, and "saw that he was good"- an echo of God's assessment of creation in Genesis 1:31 ("And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good"). But eventually the youth rejects his "earlier gospels." So doing, he is able to put the shame of his desertion and the "sin" of his abandonment of the tattered soldier behind him. Flowers appear again, in the line "scars faded as flowers"; and we see the purple and gold of Henry's vanity and the "red of blood and black of passion." Henry rids himself of the "red sickness of battle."
Throughout The Red Badge of Courage the young soldier has tried to
understand death. In Chapter 3 he seemed to want to ask a question of
the dead soldier in the yellow suit. In Chapter 7 he exchanged a long
look with the dead soldier in the forest. And in Chapter 10 the tattered
man tells him that the dead Jim Conklin isn't going to tell him anything.
But by the battle's end Henry understands what death means. "He had
been to touch the great death, and found that, after all, it was but the
As the young soldier takes stock of himself, conversation swirls around him. Someone praises the young lieutenant: "Hasbrouck? He's th' best off'cer in this here reg'ment." Bill Smithers-whose hand was stepped on back in Chapter 2 but who wouldn't let the doctor amputate his fingers-is quoted as saying that life in the hospital, which is shelled every night, is much more dangerous than fighting. As he has all along, Smithers is malingering, acting like a coward. Henry had been afraid that the other soldiers would laugh at him if they found out the story of his flight. But although they laugh at Smithers, it's with affection. Smithers laughs at himself; his cowardice is not a terrible shame.
The nature imagery with which the chapter ends supports the message of redemption carried by the religious imagery. The young soldier can't wait to see fresh meadows and cool brooks (although some readers point out that the peacefulness of nature was decisively rejected in Chapter 8). At the close of the book the sun, ever the mirror of Henry's feelings, breaks through the heavy clouds.