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Free Study Guide-The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane-Online Summary
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CHAPTER 8

Summary

As Henry runs away from the corpse, he notices that the trees "sing a hymn of twilight" and insects make "devotional pause." Nature is again showing her kind face. Then the Youth hears loud noises and artillery fire, and the forest stops its music, as if it could suddenly hear the sounds of battle.

Henry moves toward the sound of fighting. As he travels, he laughs at his and others' attitudes about war. Most of the soldiers have taken themselves seriously, believing they could influence the outcome of the fighting. As the Youth comes close to the edge of the forest, he pictures stupendous conflicts going on in front of him, like those he has grown up imagining. He hurries forth, not wanting to miss seeing a thing in the great battle. As he leaves the woods, he imagines that the trees intentionally try to block his way, to hold him back. He again sees nature as hostile, an enemy who does not want him to act on his own impulse.

Fully emerged from the forest, Henry sees the battle as a grinding machine, producing corpses and injuries. He comes upon a procession of wounded men. One of the injured has a shoe full of blood and hops around laughing hysterically. Some are angry, blaming the general for their injuries; some are quiet and sullen. Henry then sees a Spectral Soldier who has "the gray seal of death upon him." The Youth joins the group of wounded men. A Tattered Soldier, who has been wounded, walks beside him and asks if he thought it was a good fight. The Tattered Man remarks that the soldiers fought bravely, and no one has run away, words that make Henry feel even more miserable. When he asks the Youth where he was hit, Henry turns away in shame and disappears into the crowd.


Notes

In this chapter, nature again takes on different hues for Henry. At first it is again pleasant, singing hymns of twilight, blotting out the noise of war. When Henry is close enough to the fighting to again hear the noise of the artillery, the forest music ceases. Henry then imagines the forest as his enemy, trying to hold him back.

When Henry thinks of the war from a distance, it is still an abstraction to him, a romantic illusion. He again imagines great and glorious conflicts, like those in the storybooks. As he draws closer to the fighting and hears the sound of the artillery, the reality of battle returns. He realistically sees the war as a machine that grinds men into injured beings and corpses. Again, Crane is giving a naturalistic view of war.

In joining the group of wounded men, Henry continues with illusion; he pretends he has been injured. When the Tattered Man asks the Youth where he was hit, he simply turns away and vanishes into the crowd. In reality, Henry does bear a wound; but it is emotional rather than physical--deep in the soul rather than in the flesh. He was been taught to believe that running from a fight is shameful, so now Henry is filled with shame and guilt. He cannot accept himself as a whole and normal man any longer.

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