What is the climax, declining action and resolution in The Red Badge of Courage?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, the climax is reached in Chapter XX as the main character, Henry Fleming, overcomes his fear and with Wilson leads the 304th Regiment of the Northern Army to a most unlikely victory over the Southern "rebels."  Henry, no longer narcissitic and concerned only about himself, perceives himself as part of the regiment; he and the others seize the rebel flag along with their position. After this victory, the men's spirits are charged and they have regained their confidence and enthusiasm.  When some of the men tell Henry and Wilson that the colonel has praised their valor, they are encouraged and proud; their enthusiasm for battle is reinforced.  In fact, this praise strengthens Henry for the next battle.


In the ensuing battle, however, there is great loss of life; Henry finds himself lost to the vision of this carnage:

He stood, erect and tranquil, watching the attack begin agaist a part of the line that made a blue curve along the side of an adjacent hill....Of a sudden the guns on the slope roared out a measure of warning....The youth's ears were filled cups.  They were incapable of hearing more....The youth, still the bearer of the colors, did not feel his idleness. He was deeply absorbed as a spectator.

Finally, in Chapter XXIII, Henry is moved to action after his impressionistic observation of the battle. Henry becomes involved in the battle in which the men suffer losses, but are the victors, having captured four prisoners.  Henry and his friend

nestled in [the grass] and rested....They sat side by side and congratulated each other.


In the resolution of Crane's novel, Henry Fleming and his regiment receive orders to march toward the river.  As the men march along, Henry reflects upon his experiences, reproaching himself his early behavior, especially his abandoning of the tattered man.  Pondering the recent happenings, Henry is able to "criticize with some correctness" his deeds, and is able to pull himself away from his initial guilt:

Yet gradually he mustered force to put the sin at a distance.  And al last his eyes seemed to open to some new ways....He felt a quiet manhood. nonassertive but of sturdy and strong blood.  He knew that he would no more quail before his guides wherever they should point.  He had been to touch the great death, and found that, after all, it was but the great death.  He was a man.

Henry has rid himself "of the red sickness of battle.  The sultry nightmare was in the past."  His inner vision makes him perceive the universe as beautiful although it is indifferent in Crane's naturalistic world.


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