suddenly lost concern for himself, and forgot to look at a menacing
fate. He became not a man but a member. He felt that something of
which he was a part—a regiment, an army, a cause, or a country—was
in a crisis. He was welded into a common personality which was dominated
by a single desire. For some moments he could not flee, no more
than a little finger can commit a revolution from a hand.
This passage occurs in Chapter V as
Henry engages in battle for the first time. He feels a brief but
important respite from his nagging obsession with individual recognition.
This powerful desire for personal glory and accompanying conviction
that his life is more valuable than that of most other soldiers
lead to some of Henry’s worst behavior, including his abandonment
of the tattered soldier. Against these moments of hyperinflated
egotism come flashes of realization that he is but one man among
many. However, Henry’s convictions do not really change at these
times: he does not particularly care whether he fights for “a regiment,
an army, a cause, or a country.” Yet he does let slip the selfish
preservation instinct that often blinds him to larger struggle.
This momentary lapse of ego allows Henry to behave with honor. This
later proves the surest and most responsible way of winning the
glorious accolades that he so desperately desires.