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men dropped here and there like bundles. The captain of the youth’s
company had been killed in an early part of the action. His body
lay stretched out in the position of a tired man resting, but upon
his face there was an astonished and sorrowful look, as if he thought
some friend had done him an ill turn. The babbling man was grazed
by a shot that made the blood stream widely down his face. He clapped both
hands to his head. “Oh!” he said, and ran. Another grunted suddenly
as if a club had struck him in the stomach. He sat down and gazed
ruefully. In his eyes there was mute, indefinite reproach. Farther
up the line a man, standing behind a tree, had had his knee joint
splintered by a ball. Immediately he had dropped his rifle and gripped
the tree with both arms. And there he remained, clinging desperately and
crying for assistance that he might withdraw his hold upon the tree.
The Red Badge of Courage is
filled with graphic and arresting depictions of battle, such as
this passage from Chapter V when the 304th Regiment
holds off the Confederate charge. This description is noteworthy
for its powerful evocation of the chaotic violence of war; the language
is precise, sharp, and convincing. It is not difficult to imagine
such awful sights as men dropping “like bundles” or a soldier grunting
“as if he had been struck by a club in the stomach.” In general,
the death of a walk-on character might disturb readers in an abstract
way, but it does not always have a lasting impact. It is a testament
to Crane’s writing, then, that he manages to wring such pathos from
the death of a nameless captain. Even though the reader is not familiar
with this man, the misery expressed by his “sorrowful look, as if
he thought some friend had done him an ill turn” leaves an indelible
The image of the soldier with the shattered knee, clinging
desperately to a tree and calling for help, invokes the theme of
the universe’s fundamental disregard for human suffering. Time and
again, Henry encounters a natural world that is deaf to the agonies
of human beings, a realization that makes the striving for public
glory seem petty and foolish.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Red Badge of Courage!