His self-pride was now entirely restored. In the shade of its flourishing growth he stood with braced and self-confident legs, and since nothing could now be discovered he did not shrink from an encounter with the eyes of judges, and allowed no thoughts of his own to keep him from an attitude of manfulness. He had performed his mistakes in the dark, so he was still a man.
Nowhere in The Red Badge of Courage is the unflattering and empty nature of Henry’s brand of “manfulness” more apparent than in this passage from Chapter XV, when Henry prepares for battle a second time. He has recently returned to camp wounded, and basked in the admiration of the men who believe the tale of heroism that he makes up. Even more outrageous, he has condemned the men who stayed to fight in the battle he could not face and prided himself that he managed his retreat with dignity and discretion. He believes that since no one knows of his cowardice, it does not count; in his mind, his behavior has done nothing to compromise his manhood. These lines mark a crucial moment in understanding the depths of Henry’s self-delusion. As opposed to the passage described above, which illustrates how Henry abandoned an obsession with his own welfare and contributes to a greater good, here Henry proves exactly how self-interested he can be. He would encounter a moral conundrum—guilt, for example, for his egregious behavior—only if another discovered and exposed his spinelessness. With his mistakes secured in the dark, Henry feels neither regret nor shame, and allows the esteem of others to reinforce his sense of having acted in the right.