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Jim contrasts sharply with Henry in the opening pages
of the novel. When Henry asks Jim if he would flee from battle,
Jim’s answer—that he would run if other soldiers ran, fight if they
fought—establishes him as a pragmatist. He is strong and self-reliant,
and does not romanticize war or its supposed glories in the manner
that Henry does. Unlike Wilson, whose loud complaints characterize
his early appearances, Jim marches through his days efficiently
and with few grievances. He informs Henry that he can unburden himself
of his unnecessary munitions, declaring, “You can now eat and shoot
. . . That’s all you want to do.”
Jim has little patience for the kind of loud,
knee-jerk criticism or vague abstraction that distracts Wilson and
Henry. He prefers to do what duty requires of him and finds a quiet,
simple pleasure in doing so. He silences Wilson and Henry from discussing
the qualifications of their commanding officers while they are eating
because he “could not rage in fierce argument in the presence of
Jim’s quiet demeanor persists even as he dies. He does
not indulge in a protracted death scene, curse his fate, or philosophize
about the cruelties and injustices of war. Instead, he brushes Henry
and his offers of comfort aside. He seeks to die alone, and those
present notice “a curious and profound dignity in the firm lines
of his awful face.” The solemn poise with which Jim dies puzzles
Henry, who wants to rail loudly at the universe. In death, as in
life, Jim possesses the rare, self-assured goodness of a man who
knows and fulfills his responsibilities.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Red Badge of Courage!