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Free Study Guide-The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane-Online Summary
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CHAPTER 5

Summary

During the moments of waiting, the Youth thinks of his village street before the arrival of a circus parade. As he reflects on the images of that circus day, he hears someone yell, "Here they come." He sees the soldiers carefully readying their gear, adjusting and readjusting their rifles, and checking their boxes of ammunition; he compares the procedures to trying on bonnets. He sees a brown swarm of running men and the Confederate regiment shrieking. A general shouts to hold them back. The colonel stammers, "All right." The Youth turns around to make sure the rear is not being attacked and notices the commander regarding the men resentfully.

Henry starts forward unthinkingly and shoots his rifle automatically. He is conscious of his comrades around him, his "battle brotherhood." He becomes "not a man, but a member." He also thinks that something of which he is a part--regiment, country, cause--is in trouble. His eyes burn from the smoke, and his ears roar from the shooting. Suddenly, he feels a red rage, the exasperation of a pestered animal, like a cow bothered by dogs. His rage makes him feel impotent, for he knows he does not have the power to do anything significant.

The Youth notices the intent expression on the faces of the other men and hears the noises they make, like a wild barbarian song -- strange, chant-like, and babbling. Some call out asking why they do not send support. Henry notices there are no heroics in the midst of the fighting. His fellow soldiers are simply firing without apparent aim, like puppets, and the officers "neglect to stand in picturesque attitudes." The Lieutenant catches a man who has tried to run and beats him. The men on the battlefield drop like flies, and the captain is killed. At the end, an exultant yell goes out, and the firing dwindles. The charge has been repulsed. The men whoop in celebration.

The Youth does not participate in the celebration. He is aware of a foul atmosphere all around him. He looks and sees bodies lying everywhere. A procession of wounded men goes toward the rear. He then sees a flash of guns in the grove and momentarily thinks they are aimed directly at him. He is relieved not to be shot.


Henry then sees flags here and there, the red of stripes dominating. He feels a thrill at the sight of the old emblem. He also feels astonishment to realize the sky is still pure blue and the sun is gleaming. Nature has gone on with its "golden process" in the midst of the battle.

Notes

This chapter is the first one to give an actual account of a battle, and it is very realistic. For Henry, it is not a pretty picture. He moves forward without thinking, and he shoots automatically at nothing in particular. His eyes burn and his ears roar. He is possessed by a feeling of impotency at not being able to do anything significant in the battle. When the fighting ceases and his regiment is victorious in repulsing the enemy, Henry cannot celebrate. He is too horrified over seeing the dead bodies and the long procession of the wounded.

At the beginning of the chapter, Henry waits for the battle action and remembers waiting for a circus parade when he was a youth back home. When the soldiers shout "here they come," announcing the enemy approach, it seems to be part of the Youth's reverie about the circus parade. In this way, Crane makes an oblique comment on war, undermining the dominant notion that battle is a glorious affair by comparing it to a circus.

At the end of the chapter, Crane again compares the beauty of nature to the ugliness of war. In spite of the bloodshed, the sky remains blue and the sun still shines. The golden process of nature goes on peacefully in the midst of the war.

It is important to notice that the Youth does not contemplate his state of mind in this chapter. There is no time to reflect on the state of things once the fighting begins. Crane says that Henry is in "battle sleep," indicating that he goes through the motions of fighting without being aware of what he is doing.

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