In The Red Badge of Courage, how does Henry come to terms with guilt?

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bullgatortail eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Henry feels guilt throughout the early stages of the novel. He is haunted by a feeling of unworthiness and self-doubt about how he will behave under fire. When he faces his first taste of combat, he turns and runs. When he finds that his comrades have stood and fought, Henry's guilt overwhelms him. He falls in with a group of wounded soldiers, wishing that he, too, had a red badge of courage. When he finally is reunited with his regiment, he expects "howls of derision" from his friends. But Henry's bloodied head--caused by a fellow Union soldier who had also "skedaddled" from the battlefield--is believed to be a wound from the fighting, so his secret is safe: No one knows he has run. With his terrible act of cowardism erased, Henry decides to make this second chance count. Though he is still wary of the next skirmish, he is determined to stick it out. When the Confederate charge comes, he seems to have no fear, venturing far beyond his own line in pursuit of the retreating enemy. His action is considered heroic, and his friends are inspired by his unexplained enthusiasm. Henry rids himself of the last remnants of his guilt when he confesses his earlier cowardice to his friend, Wilson--who also admits to having run away.  

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The Red Badge of Courage

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