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Free Study Guide-The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane-Online Summary
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CHAPTER 19

Summary

The Youth stares ahead and does not even hear the command to charge. He only feels the line surge forward and sees an officer who "looks like a boy a-horseback" waving his hat. He runs toward the enemy as toward a goal, looking almost insane. He decides that it is a mere question of getting over an unpleasant matter as quickly as possible. The Youth ends up being the first to advance because he is a fast runner. He first hears the yell of the enemy. He then sees men, "punched by bullets, fall in grotesque agonies." He notices every blade of the green grass. His mind takes on a mechanical but firm impression so that afterward he will have a perfect memory of it.

The soldiers yell and scream as they advance, exciting one another. They are not mere men, but invincible machines. "There is a delirium that encounters despair and death, and is heedless and blind to the odds. It is a temporary but sublime absence of selfishness." The fast-paced advance, however, tires the men quickly. The leaders begin to slacken their speed, and the regiment falters and hesitates. They "become men again," but they appear dazed. They watch their regiment dwindle as their comrades die. The sight of their dying friends paralyzes them. The lieutenant with the infantile face rages for the men to move on again. Wilson rouses himself and fires a shot. His action makes the men wake up from their dazed trance, and they begin to move forward, crouching behind trees. The lieutenant again bellows at them to cross an open space; he grabs Henry by the arm, pushing him forward. Henry resents the lieutenant, but moves forward to the open space. With Wilson's help, he urges the rest of the regiment forward.


The Youth runs like a mad man to cross the open space and reach the woods without being shot. As he runs, he feels a "despairing fondness for the flag." He sees it as a "creation of beauty and invulnerability, a woman. . .hating and loving, that called him with a voice of his hopes." He stays near the flag because he feels that no harm will come to it; he hopes it will offer him protection as well. Then Henry sees the color sergeant get shot and Wilson and the Youth grab the flag. They have to pry it from the corpse's hands.

Notes

In this chapter, the Youth is very in tune with everything that is going on at the battlefront. He even notices the green blades of grass. The only thing he does not understand is why he is even on the battlefield. In a naturalistic way, he is simply being pushed onward by the events around him. Henry realizes that he is not in control.

The Youth does not choose to be a leader in this chapter; he simply becomes one. When the order is given to move forward, he finds himself at the forefront, for he runs faster than the other soldiers. Being at the front, the Youth automatically assumes a leadership position. He encourages his fellow soldiers and urges them forward, with Wilson's help. Henry also resents the lieutenant's intrusion when he grabs his arm and pushes him toward the enemy.

At the end of the chapter, Henry notices the flag and is inspired by it and compares it to a woman. He feels it will never be destroyed, and therefore, offers great protection to him and the soldiers nearby. Ironically, just as the Youth has these thoughts, the color bearer is shot, and the flag almost hits the ground. Wilson and Henry grab the flag just in time. They have to pry it out the dead man's grip.

It is important to notice in this chapter that Crane avoids depicting Henry as a hero. He is simply a man driven to fight. What causes him to do well in battle here is just as unknowable as what drove him to desert the earlier battle. Crane again implies that a naturalistic force drives the whole war effort.

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