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Free Study Guide-The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane-Online Summary
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CHAPTER 7

Summary

As he thinks about what he has done, the youth cringes, as if he has been discovered in a crime. He cannot believe he has fled when his regiment has won a victory. He feels he has been wronged and tries to convince himself he has done the right thing to save himself from annihilation. He pretends his actions have been wise and full of strategy; but he wonders what the others will say when he returns.

Feeling like a criminal, he enters the woods; but he feels like the forest is trying to betray him. He is sure that the noise of the crackling twigs underfoot will call attention to his presence; therefore, he goes deeper into the woods, seeking a dark hiding place. In the forest, he finds solace. The landscape assures him and hides the rumble of death from his ears. In the presence of nature, Henry experiences the "religion of peace." Nature is to him like a kind woman who has an aversion to tragedy. He feels that nature (Mother Earth) would die if her timid eyes were forced to see the bloodshed he has seen.

Henry throws a pinecone at a happy squirrel and feels triumphant when the animal flees. He feels that nature is giving him a sign, displaying the natural law of things. When the squirrel recognizes danger, it flees, just as he has fled. The Youth is sure that nature agrees with his actions. He walks deeper into the forest, looking for even greater darkness. The tree branches over make a chapel, and he experiences a religious half-light. Further on, he finds a dead man dressed in a blue uniform that has faded to green. The two exchange a long look, and then Henry retreats backwards, step by step, with his eyes still on the corpse. He sees the ants swarming over the dead man's face. The Youth finally turns and runs, thinking the dead soldier is laughing at his cowardice and fearing that the corpse will pursue him. Henry cannot, however, run away from his guilt.


Notes

Henry is amazed to learn that his comrades have stayed in the fight and pushed the enemy back. He is angry at them and believes they have wronged him by staying. To assuage his own guilt, he tries to convince himself he did the right thing by saving his own life; but he worries about what the others will say to him when he returns.

Out of shame over his cowardice, Henry goes into the woods, where he will not be seen. It also offers him protection from the horrible sounds of the battle, so he can pretend the war is far away. The darkness of the forest, however, is symbolic of his confused, unenlightened mind and his great sense of isolation. At first, Henry feels like the forest is not his friend and will betray him. When the wholesomeness of nature returns to his mind, he feels a return of solace and peace. When he sees the squirrel run at danger, it confirms to him that his desertion was a natural thing to do, a conformance to natural law. His peacefulness is soon destroyed when he sees the dead soldier in the woods; even the cathedral of nature is tainted by the death caused by war.

It is important to notice that nature does not offer permanent solace to Henry in this chapter. He is at first fearful of the forest as a betrayer. Later, when he finds the corpse, he realizes that nature is not protected from ugliness and death. Crane reveals in this scene the naturalistic belief that nature is sometimes indifferent to mankind.

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