Metophorically, to what is the youth comparing bravery and battle in Chapter 2 of The Red Badge of Courage?

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rareynolds eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Henry is anxious about battle, and particularly about his own “courage” and whether he would run, if given the chance. He longs to know that others share his own doubts, but his emotional isolation grows more and more acute. Crane juxtaposes Henry’s internal state with the facts of his regiment’s movement (possibly into position for battle; none of the soldiers have any idea what their orders actually are). At the beginning of the chapter, Henry decides that the only way to know if he will stand and fight is to actually be in a battle; he thinks of it as an experiment: “he must have blaze, blood, and danger, even as a chemist requires this, that, and the other.” At the end of the chapter, still riddled with doubt, he imagines his fear as a monster: “In the darkness he saw visions of a thousand-tongued fear that would babble at his back and cause him to flee, while others were going coolly about their country's business. He admitted that he would not be able to cope with this monster.”

While these metaphors might help Henry conceptualize his fear, ultimately they only serve to increase his isolation. In contrast to these metaphorical comparisons stand the actual events of the movement of the regiment. For instance, there is the episode of the private who tries to steal a horse from a house they are passing, and how a girl thwarts him, causing the regiment to take the girl's side:

They jeered the piratical private, and called attention to various defects in his personal appearance; and they were wildly enthusiastic in support of the young girl.

To her, from some distance, came bold advice. "Hit him with a stick."

There were crows and catcalls showered upon him when he retreated without the horse. The regiment rejoiced at his downfall. Loud and vociferous congratulations were showered upon the maiden, who stood panting and regarding the troops with defiance.

There is a kind of cognitive or emotional dissonance in such scenes for Henry, consumed as he is with his own fear. The hilarity of the men only underlines his desperation. Crane writes, “His emotions made him feel strange in the presence of men who talked excitedly of a prospective battle as of a drama they were about to witness, with nothing but eagerness and curiosity apparent in their faces. It was often that he suspected them to be liars.” Their playfulness in this scene is not a lie, exactly, but an expression of their nervousness and uncertainty.

In fact, the reassurance Henry seeks is simply not available to him. No one wants to talk about what he wants to talk about, because to do so would be to possibly acknowledge that they too might be afraid and run. In a sense, the men are also engaged in a metaphorical or imaginative exercise to allay their own fears. At the end of the chapter, when Henry has a conversation with Wilson and challenges his bravery, instead of sympathy, Wilson leaves offended. Henry’s isolation is palpable: “No one seemed to be wrestling with such a terrific personal problem. He was a mental outcast.”

dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

At the beginning of the chapter, the youth is trying to determine if he will be able to show bravery in battle, and he decides that this is not a problem he will be able to solve with "a mental slate and pencil".  He compares the issue metaphorically to a scientific experiment which must be played out before an answer can be be derived; in order to conduct the experiment, "he must have blaze, blood, and danger, even as a chemist requires this, that, and the other".  According to his own metaphor, the youth will not know if he will show bravery in battle until he is actually tried in battle conditions.

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The Red Badge of Courage

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