The Red Badge of Courage – Chapters VIII–X

Summary: Chapter VIII
Stomping through the forest, Henry hears “the crimson
roar” of battle. Hoping to get a closer look, he heads toward it.
He comes upon a column of wounded men stumbling along a road, and notices
one spectral soldier with a vacant gaze. Henry joins the column
and a soldier with a bloody head and a dangling arm begins to talk
to him. Henry tries to avoid this tattered man, but the wounded soldier
continues to talk about the courage and fortitude of the army, exuding
pride that his regiment did not flee from the fighting. He asks
Henry where he has been wounded, and Henry hurries away in a panic.
Summary: Chapter IX
Henry falls back in the procession to avoid the tattered
man. As he observes the wounded soldiers around him, he becomes
envious of their injuries; he considers a wound proof of valor—a
“red badge of courage”—and wishes that he had one. He walks by the
spectral soldier that he noticed earlier, a gray man staring blankly
into “the unknown.” Henry suddenly realizes the man’s identity and
cries out: “Gawd! Jim Conklin!” Jim greets Henry wearily and asks where
he has been, telling him, “I got shot.”
Jim adds that he is afraid of falling down and being run
over by the artillery wagons. Henry promises to take care of him.
Jim seems reassured, but soon orders Henry to leave him alone and
not touch him. Baffled, Henry tries to lead Jim into the fields,
where the artillery wagons will not frighten him, but Jim musters
the strength to run away toward a small clump of bushes. Henry and
the tattered man follow after him, watching in horror as Jim convulses,
collapses, and dies. The flap of Jim’s blue jacket falls away from
his body, and Henry sees that his side looks “as if it had been
chewed by wolves.” Consumed with rage at his friend’s death, Henry
clenches his fist and shakes it angrily in the direction of the
Summary: Chapter X
The tattered man marvels at the strength that Jim mustered
before death, wondering how he managed to run when his injury should have
rendered him unable to walk. Henry and the tattered man move away
from the corpse. The tattered man says that he is feeling “pretty
damn’ bad,” and Henry worries that he is about to witness another
death. The tattered man says, however, that he is not about to die—he
has children who need him to survive. He mistakes Henry for his
friend Tom Jamison and tells him that he also looks weak, and that
he should have his wound looked at. He adds that he once saw a man
shot in the head so that the man did not realize he was hurt until
he was already dead.
Tormented, Henry leaves the tattered man behind.
As he stalks away, the tattered man, whom Henry knows will almost
certainly die if abandoned, seems to lose his focus, and begins
crying out to Henry. Driven to distraction by the tattered man’s
questions about his wound, Henry cannot bear the thought of anyone discovering
“his crime.”
Analysis: Chapters VIII–X
The encounters with Jim and the tattered man force Henry
to reconcile fantasy with reality. He views the wounded soldiers
as heroic and enviable, but watches two of them die. Henry is deeply
ashamed of his own cowardice in running from battle, and longs for
a wound to validate his nerve. But the soldiers who acted as he
wishes he could have—one of them his childhood friend Jim Conklin—both die
of their wounds. The apparent necessity of navigating this conflict
between life and honor troubles Henry greatly.
Nowhere in the novel is the tension between the human
instinct of self-preservation and the impetus toward moral behavior
stronger or more upsetting to Henry. Though he anxiously wishes
to act bravely to earn the praise and envy of others, he is afraid
to die. The pathetic fates of the tattered man and Jim arouse these
conflicting emotions in Henry, causing him to experience unbearable
self-doubt. He modifies the positive connection between battle wound and
courage into an inverse correlation between battle wound and shame:
since he has not been injured, he feels his disgrace is visible
to everyone around him. Too immature to confront his insecurities, Henry
evades them by rashly abandoning the dying, tattered man, whose
battle wound underscores the courage that Henry lacks.
Henry’s various experiences with nature’s indifference
to human concerns further complicate his outlook by removing his
sense of moral absolutes: if the universe has no regard for human
concerns, then human moral conventions do not reflect a definitive,
natural spectrum of right and wrong. Henry comes to believe that
human beings are not inherently moral animals; rather, they have
simply constructed an arbitrary and inflexible system of morality
that often runs counter to their own instincts. In contrast, nature’s
definitive, nonarbitrary judgments of right and wrong change with,
and are dependent on, the human value of self-preservation.
In this environment, the idea of a wound appeals immensely
to the troubled, young Henry. While it may seem ironic that an individual
who fears danger would long for an injury, Henry considers a wound
irrefutable proof of the moral position he so desperately seeks,
a symbol not only of courage but also of an entire value system
that nature ignores.