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Free Study Guide-The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane-Online Summary
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CHAPTER 15

Summary

As the regiment stands ready to march, the Youth remembers the packet Wilson has given him to keep, thinking he would die in the previous day's battle. He decides to hold it as a small weapon of defense against questions that might be asked of him. He feels superior to Wilson in possession of this weapon. As a result, he believes that his pride is entirely restored, especially since no one suspects his shameful desertion. Henry convinces himself that he has "performed his mistakes in the dark" and begins to forgive himself for them. He now again thinks that he is perhaps still a man and decides to put the past out of his mind.

Henry consciously avoids thinking about future battles. "He had been taught that many obligations of a life were easily avoided." Instead, he ponders briefly on the events of the previous day. He decides that "the lessons of yesterday had been that retribution was laggard and blind." The youth now feels he is a man of experience. He has been among the dragons and decides, in retrospect, that they are not so hideous. He remembers seeing the men flee the battle with terror in their faces. The Youth tricks himself into believing that he is superior to them, because he fled with discretion and dignity. He even believes he is "doomed to greatness."

Wilson comes to Henry and shame-facedly asks for his packet of letters back. The Youth returns it, not saying a word. He feels very generous about withholding any derisive comment. He also gains strength from seeing Wilson's shame.


Henry begins to daydream about home. He feels competent to tell his mother and friends wonderful tales about the war. In some ways, he is showing signs of becoming a veteran.

Notes

The Youth goes through an ignoble phase in this chapter as a sort of defense mechanism to keep him from feeling the unbearable shame of yesterday. In contrast to Wilson, Henry is petty and mean-spirited. He is willing to use Wilson's trust against him in order to protect himself. He is willing to lie to people back home with wonderful war stories. He rationalizes his retreat, stating that he fled with discretion and dignity. He even believes he is doomed to greatness. The Youth still suffers from immaturity and naiveté.

Henry is also happy that his shameful, cowardly act has not been discovered, and probably will not be. He, therefore, convinces himself that cowardice does not matter if it goes unnoticed; he assumes the same is true of bravery. He acknowledges the naturalistic belief that what happens in life is largely due to chance and circumstance beyond man's control. As a result, the Youth refuses to think about future battles, for in the future he will not be in control of his behavior on the battlefield, just as he was not in control yesterday.

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