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Free Study Guide-The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane-Online Summary
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CHAPTER 18

Summary

The regiment has a break for some minutes, but the soldiers still hear the loud noises of the battle going on nearby. One man, Jimmy Rogers, has been shot and is lying in the grass in great pain. The men hesitate to approach him, which causes the wounded soldier to scream, damning them.

The Youth and Wilson gain permission to go for water. They head for a stream that they think is nearby in order to fill the canteens of the men. They do not find water, but they see the entire battlefront from a high vantage point. They spy the retreating infantry and wounded soldiers; they also see stragglers "slinking through the woods." They come upon a "jangling general" and his staff who almost ride their horses over the top of a wounded man. Henry and Wilson try to overhear their conversation. The general, who is their own commander, says, "It'll be hell t' pay stoppin' the enemy." An officer suggests that the 304th regiment should front the next charge. He claims, "They fight like a lot of mule drivers. I can spare them best of any." The general accepts the suggestion and says the charge will begin in five minutes. He adds, "I don't believe many of your mule drivers will get back." The youth feels aged by hearing this. He is shocked to learn that he is very insignificant, which makes him look at the war with new eyes. The officer has spoken of the regiment as if he were speaking of a broom "in a tone properly indifferent to its fate."

The Youth and Wilson rejoin the regiment and tell the others they are going to lead the next charge; they, however, do not share the information that most of them are expected to be killed. In order to move out, the officers begin to form the regiment into a compact mass. To the Youth, they seem "like critical shepherds struggling with sheep."


Notes

At the beginning of the chapter, Henry feels good. His regiment has done a great job and pushed the enemy into retreat. He personally has stayed in the fight and been praised for his efforts. He feels good about himself. Instead of wallowing in self-pity, as he has done earlier in the book, he begins to have concern about others, much like Wilson. He fact the two men ask for permission to go and retrieve water for the entire regiment.

Because of his positive thinking, the Youth is totally shocked to learn that the general, his commander, has no respect for the soldiers or their success. He accepts their evaluation as "mule drivers" and thinks they can be spared. He is not worried about sacrificing most of the 304th regiment for a momentary charge. The Youth again realizes the dehumanization of war; but he accepts that he cannot change that. Henry now knows what he must do in battle and simply decides to do what must be done, without rebelling or pondering it deeply.

Crane clearly brings out his naturalistic belief about war in the chapter. He clearly shows that the individual is unimportant to the war or the general scheme of things.

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