In the Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, What do you think was the purpose of the religious symbolism in chapter seven when Henry finds the dead soldier?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Your question of course refers to the way that Henry, as he pushes further into the forest, comes across a glade that is described in the following way:

At length he reached a place where the high, arching boughs made a chapel. He softly pushed the green doors aside and entered. Pine needles were a gentle brown carpet. There was a religious half light.

In a sense, the decayed and rotted corpse that Henry discovers in this glade is a kind of anti-climax, until we consider the context of this chapter and what has just happened to Henry. Let us remember that Henry has run away from battle and now is desperately trying to justify his actions. He has just seen a squirrel run from him, and Henry sees this as nature's support for the flight response he has just himself displayed. However, when he comes across the corpse, Henry is forced to realise that there are no such easy answers in life and that death is an inescapable part of life. Just as the corpse is a part of this beautiful, religious setting, so death is an omnipresent aspect of life. Henry is forced to realise that questions of honour and wondering if this solider ran away from battle or not are immaterial, as he is dead and this is the most important fact against which issues of reputation and courage are meaningless. The religious imagery thus helps us recognise the all-important presence of death in our lives.

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