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Free Study Guide-The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane-Online Summary
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CHAPTER 6

Summary

The Youth awakens from his battle sleep and is glad that the fighting is over at last. He has passed the supreme trial, for he has not run. Even though he is exhausted, he is in an ecstasy of self- satisfaction, feeling he is a fine fellow. As a result, he takes an interest in his fellow soldiers and even socializes with them for the first time in a long while. After only a short time, however, the call goes out, "Here they come again." Henry cannot believe his ears. The other soldiers groan and feel dejected. They say they cannot stand a second banging. One man says, "I wish Bill Smithers had trod on my hand insteader me treddin' on his'n."

In his mind, the Youth begins to exaggerate the skill, endurance, and valor of the enemy. He feels that they are dragons or "machines of steel," waiting to gobble him up. The dragons charge again. A man near him suddenly runs away screaming. A boy, who has the look of courage and majesty on his face, quickly becomes "a smitten object" and runs away as well. The Youth stands in shock as others scamper away. He begins to feel that he may be the only one left to fight the enemy. Suddenly, he too panics, throws down his gun, and runs. He feels no shame in fleeing "like a rabbit" and speeds toward the rear with horror on his face.


Since he has turned his back on the fighting, the fears of the Youth are magnified. He feels that the enemy is pursuing him and death is about to stab him between the shoulder blades. Suddenly, he finds himself running through a region being shelled. He comes within view of a battery of six gunners in action. He thinks the soldiers are "methodical idiots! Machine-like fools!" He scrambles to the top of a hill and watches. He feels the men below are either a wondrous breed or fools. He comes upon a general on horseback with the appearance of a businessman. Henry tries to hear what he is saying to his fellow officers, all on horseback; but the Youth feels it is criminal to stay calmly in one spot. As he moves on, he hears a shout, "They've held em." The Youth is amazed that there was no general retreat. Then he looks back at the general, who is holding "a carnival of joy on horseback."

Notes

The chapter presents the crisis of the book. It opens with Henry's elation over having stayed the course in the first battle. He feels self-satisfied and proud that he has fought like a man. In his glory, he even socializes with the other soldiers. His elation makes his reaction in the second battle that much worse.

The call goes out that the enemy is charging again. The exhausted Henry cannot believe his ears. As he takes up his gun, his fears are gigantic. He sees the enemy as a dragon, waiting to gobble him up. When he sees others around him running, he is convinced that the regiment is in retreat. Then Henry panics, and his worst fears come to pass; he throws down his gun and flees.

Crane plots this scene of the Youth's second skirmish with heavy irony centering on the theme of illusion vs. reality. In the beginning of the chapter, Henry is convinced he is a brave man; in the second battle, he proves he is a coward. Henry believes his regiment is defeated and in retreat; in truth, they are victorious. Henry looks at the general, who is experienced in war and knows much information about the fighting. In his naiveté, the youth, however, is convinced he knows more than the general. In the disassociation and limited point of view between the foot soldier's perception of what is happening in a battle and the general's perception, Crane shows part of the confusion and powerlessness of the ordinary soldier.

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