The novel’s protagonist; a young soldier fighting for the Union army during the American Civil War. Initially, Henry stands untested in battle and questions his own courage. As the novel progresses, he encounters hard truths about the experience of war, confronting the universe’s indifference to his existence and the insignificance of his own life. Often vain and holding extremely romantic notions about himself, Henry grapples with these lessons as he first runs from battle, then comes to thrive as a soldier in combat.
Henry’s friend; a tall soldier hurt during the regiment’s first battle. Jim soon dies from his wounds, and represents, in the early part of the novel, an important moral contrast to Henry.
A loud private; Henry’s friend in the regiment. Wilson and Henry grow close as they share the harsh experiences of war and gain a reputation as the regiment’s best fighters. Wilson proves to be a more sympathetic version of Henry, though he does not seem to be troubled by Henry’s tendency to endlessly scrutinize his own actions.
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A twice-shot soldier whom Henry encounters in the column of wounded men. With his endless speculation about Henry’s supposed wound, the tattered soldier functions as a nagging, painful conscience to Henry.
Henry’s commander in battle, a youthful officer who swears profusely during the fighting. As Henry gains recognition for doing brave deeds, he and the lieutenant develop sympathy for each other, often feeling that they must work together to motivate the rest of the men.
Encountered only in a brief flashback, Henry’s mother opposed his enlisting in the army. Though her advice is only briefly summarized in Henry’s flashback, it contains several difficult themes with which Henry must grapple, including the insignificance of his life in the grand scheme of the world.