Whereas Jim Conklin’s character remains notably steady throughout the novel, Wilson’s undergoes a dramatic change. Wilson is initially loud, opinionated, and naïve. For the first half of the book, Crane refers to him almost exclusively as “the loud soldier.” Wilson indignantly assures Henry that if battle occurs, he will certainly fight in it: “I said I was going to do my share of the fighting—that’s what I said. And I am, too. Who are you anyhow? You talk as if you thought you was Napoleon Bonaparte.” Shortly thereafter, he approaches Henry again. Certain that he is about to meet his doom, he gives the youth a yellow envelope to deliver to his family, should he die in battle. This erratic shift from obnoxious bravado to naked vulnerability demonstrates Wilson’s immaturity. Like Henry, he is initially little more than a youth trying desperately to assure himself of his manhood.
Wilson’s transformation becomes clear relatively quickly. After disappearing into battle, he resurfaces to take care of Henry with all of the bustling of an “amateur nurse” upon Henry’s return to camp. He further displays his generosity by insisting that Henry take his blanket. Upon waking the next day, Henry notes the change in his friend: “He was no more a loud young soldier. There was now about him a fine reliance. He showed a quiet belief in his purpose and his abilities.”
Wilson’s attitude toward the envelope which he earlier entrusted to Henry further demonstrates the maturation that he has undergone. Though ashamed of his earlier display of fear, he asks Henry for the envelope back—he is no longer interested in his reputation or in the amount of sheer bravery that his comrades associate with his name, two issues that ponderously plague Henry. Instead, Wilson seems to have “climbed a peak of wisdom from which he could perceive himself as a very wee thing.”
This transformation furthers one of the novel’s explorations, showing plainly what happens when one realizes the relative insignificance of his or her life—an awareness that Henry seems to have gained by the novel’s end. Furthermore, the development of Wilson’s character contributes to the noise/silence motif. Through the sounds of battle, endless gossip, and empty bragging of the soldiers, noise comes to be associated with youth, vanity, and struggle. Toward the end of the novel, these sounds give way to a peace and quiet that suggest the eventuality of the progression past youthful struggle to the more reflective musings of manhood.