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Free Study Guide-The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane-Online Summary
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CHAPTER 17

Summary

The advance of the enemy seems to the Youth like a "ruthless hunting." He feels wild hate for the relentless enemy; his rage against them turns into "a dark and stormy specter that possessed him and made him dream of abominable cruelties." He is also angry that he does not have time to ponder and deal with what happened to him yesterday or talk about the process of war with more experienced soldiers.

The fight begins, and the smoke from the rifles quickly grows thick. To the Youth, the fighting soldiers resemble animals tossed for a death struggle into a dark pit. Although he is firing his rifle at the enemy and the barrel grows hot, it seems like an impotent stick to him. At one point, Henry loses the direction of the ground and falls; he gets up and takes a position behind a tree, determined to hold his ground.

When the enemy falls back, the Youth goes instantly forward like a dog. He is so engrossed in the battle that he is not aware of a lull, but fires away. Someone calls him a fool for not knowing when to quit, for there is nothing to shoot at. The youth finally stops firing and lies down beside his comrades. His lieutenant praises him by saying, "By heavens, if I had ten thousand wild cats like you, I could tear th' stomach outa this war in less'n a week." The others look at the Youth awestruck. They see him as "a war devil." Henry reflects on his behavior and feels proud that he has been "a barbarian, a beast. He had fought like a pagan defending his religion. It was fine, wild, in some ways, easy." He realizes that he is has become a hero; but he is unaware of the process that gives him the title. "He had slept and awakening found himself a knight."


Notes

This chapter depicts Henry's feeling of hatred for the enemy. He wants to rest and ponder the events of the day before, but the enemy pushes him into battle. He sees them as "flies sucking insolently at his blood." Because of the intensity of his feelings against the enemy, the Youth fights as hard as he can during the battle.

During the fighting, the Youth pictures the soldiers as animals. He sees the battle as ugly and dehumanizing, but he fights on. In fact, when the enemy retreats, the Youth is so engrossed in the battle he does not even realize that it is time to quit. When he is praised by the lieutenant and admired by his fellow soldiers for his battle fever, Henry's attitude about war suddenly changes; he sees the fighting as a noble thing.

Crane has subtle irony in the picture that he gives of Henry in this chapter. The Youth goes into a frenzy of fighting, shooting without aiming and not knowing when to stop. It is hardly a heroic image, but Crane describes him as a hero in the eyes of the others. They judge him as courageous; and yet, he does nothing special. He just does what he feels needs to be done. He concentrates on the enemy instead of himself. Crane, therefore, is saying that courage is something that one cannot think about or plan to do. It just happens when the time and conditions are right.

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