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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
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Red Badge of Courage!