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Free Study Guide-The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane-Online Summary
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CHAPTER 23

Summary

The colonel announces, "We must charge'm!" The Youth surveys the scene and realizes it is a wise order; it would be death for the regiment to stay in its present place. He expects the men to greet the news with weariness, but is surprised to see them giving quickly assent and leap forward. "It was a blind and despairing rush by the collection of men in dusty and tattered blue. . .under a sapphire sky." The Youth keeps the flag in front and urges the soldiers onward. He sees the men growing "suddenly wild with an enthusiasm of unselfishness" and making an "exhibition of sublime recklessness." Henry himself is overjoyed to feel "the daring spirit of a savage." He pushes himself to the limit.

When the regiment splits the line of the enemy, some run and some fight, not giving up any ground. The Youth centers the "gaze of his soul" on the other flag and plunges at it. He sees the rival color bearer, shot with several bullets, among a group of enemy soldiers who are writhing on the ground in pain. Even though he is about to die, he holds onto his flag. Wilson grabs the enemy flag; four men are taken prisoners. One of them is only a boy, who is very calm. Another captive remains in total silence, apparently suffering pure shame. The Youth and Wilson congratulate each other on the victory, and the other soldiers shout with joy.

Notes

In this, the penultimate chapter of the book, the Youth is at the front of the charge, carrying the flag and urging the soldiers onward. He feels like a savage, totally given to the fight and pushing himself to the limit. When the regiment splits the enemy line, Henry is one of the first soldiers to cross into their territory, where he has a first-hand encounter with the enemy. He sees the Southern uniforms and the tortured faces of the soldiers. He then spies the enemy flag and plunges at it, determined to bring it home. He tries to grab the colors from the hand of the dying flag bearer, but it is Wilson who manages to wrestle it away. It is a clear flashback to the time that Henry and Wilson have fought over their own flag; only this time Wilson comes away with the colors. There is, however, no jealousy or anger between them; next to himself, Henry would rather see Wilson carrying the enemy flag, the symbol of victory, than any other soldier. In his new selflessness, the Youth can rejoice for his friend.


It is not just Henry who is motivated and courageous in this chapter. Although tired and exhausted, the regiment shows great bravery. They become an unselfish brotherhood dedicated to fighting together and winning. They quickly leap forward into the charge against the enemy. Sensing victory, they grow wild with enthusiasm and fight with recklessness. The enemy cannot stand against them. When the Confederate forces retreat, the soldiers celebrate with great joy.

This chapter comes closest to glorifying war of any of the chapters in the book. Although Crane's purpose is certainly to show the reality of war in its brutality, boredom, injustice, and ignominy, he succeeds in this chapter to show there is a thrill of success in fighting a victorious battle.

It is important to notice that the enemy is seen at closer range in this chapter than elsewhere in the book. Henry and his fellow soldiers from the regiment are close enough to study the enemy uniforms and gaze into their faces. What amazes them is to find that these enemy soldiers do not hold any special powers; they are very similar to themselves, ordinary men with a hard job to perform. Like them, the enemy is human and, at this point, ashamed of losing the battle.


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