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Free Study Guide-The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane-Online Summary
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CHAPTER 2

Summary

The next morning the Youth finds that the rumor is a mistake and is irritated, for the rumor has made him more conscious of and concerned about himself. For days, he makes ceaseless calculations, but finally realizes that the only way to prove himself in battle is to go into a blaze of fighting and then watch himself. The Youth frets for an opportunity to prove his courage to himself. He tries to measure himself against his fellow soldiers and wonders which of them have the same doubts as he. Sometimes he believes them all to be heroes. Other times, he realizes they are all afraid and often lie about their bravery.

Henry finds the slowness of the generals intolerable. He feels he cannot wait much longer. Then early one morning his colonel arrives on a horse and gives orders. The regiment goes "swinging off into the darkness," like a moving monster with many feet. Things are not well organized. A soldier falls down, and his comrade steps on his hand unintentionally. Most of the soldiers talk about what may happen. They even sing and joke, but the Youth takes no part in it. He is engaged in his own eternal debate. He studies his companions' faces to detect if they feel as he does. Along the road, a fat soldier tries to steal a horse. A girl struggles with him over it, and the man loses; the soldiers cheer for her. At night at camp, the Youth keeps from interaction with the others. He wanders a few paces into the dark and lies on the grass. While he feels the caress of the wind, the blades press against his cheek and make him pity himself. He misses the farm, feels unhappy, and thinks he is not made to be a soldier. The mood of darkness is in sympathy with the Youth.

The Loud Soldier approaches him and talks about his anticipation of the fight enthusiastically. Henry asks how he knows he will not run. The Loud one laughs and denies that he ever would. The Youth says lots of good men thought they were going to do great then acted afraid. The Loud one laughs again. The Youth seems alone in this struggle, a mental outcast. He imagines himself running and admits he cannot cope with this monster that is fear. He falls asleep exhausted and ill from the monotony of suffering.


Notes

In this chapter, the Youth is clearly portrayed as a loner and a spectator. He watches others, thinks thoughts that the others are probably trying hard to repress, and broods over his own alienation. He listens to the confidence expressed by the Loud Soldier and the Tall Soldier, which makes him feel even more isolated. The scene when Henry is alone in the dark provides a brief pastoral break from the artificial life of the soldier. The Youth several times will find himself noticing the simplicity and beauty of nature and feeling the stark contrast between it and war.

The dominant theme of the first section of Red Badge of Courage is the contrast between the anticipated glory of the fight and the reality of boredom. The Youth is bored and finds camp life monotonous and frustrating.

Another important element to notice is the disconnection between the foot soldiers and the commanders. The Youth has no way of knowing what the plan is and when he will get orders. He does not know who his commanders are and can, therefore, not place trust in them or feel loyalty to them. He is given no reason for the long delays and the steady marching.

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