The Red Badge of Courage : Novel Summary: Chapter 8-10
When twilight comes, Henry hears renewed sounds of fighting, and he runs in the direction of the battle, fully aware of how ironical this action is. But he runs just to witness the battle; he has no intention of getting involved in it again. He thinks of the war as like the grinding of an immense machine, and he must get close to it and watch it. He comes upon a procession of wounded men making their way to the rear. He falls in with them. A tattered soldier covered with grime and blood, and wounded in the head and arm, walks at Henry’s side and tries to befriend him. He tries to get Henry to agree with him that it had been a good fight. He says all the soldiers on their side fought hard. Then he asks Henry where he is wounded. Henry panics and turns away from the man. He slips off into the crowd.
Henry finds other wounded men to walk with, but he now thinks that his shame must be visible. He wishes he had a wound too, a “red badge of courage” (ch. 9, p. 67). He walks alongside a man who is badly wounded and near death. With horror he realizes it is Jim Conklin. When Jim recognizes Henry, he says he was worried about him. Henry says he will take care of him, but the tattered soldier tells Henry that Jim has only a few more minutes to live. Henry watches as Jim goes through his last moments before falling to the ground dead. At the sight of his dead friend, Henry turns with rage in the direction of the battlefield and shakes his fist.
The tattered soldier and Henry leave the corpse and start back on their way. Henry is worried that the soldier may also die, but the tattered soldier says he will not. After they have talked a while, the tattered soldier again asks Henry where his injury is located. He assumes it may be an internal injury, since Henry carries no visible wound. Henry becomes angry at the man and tells him not to bother him. Then Henry says goodbye and wanders off by himself. He wishes he was dead. He feels unable to keep his crime of cowardice concealed.
In these three chapters, Henry is continually confronted with his own conscience. Wherever he turns he cannot escape it. This is the role the tattered soldier plays. He acts as a prick to Henry’s conscience. The tattered soldier’s tales of how well the men fought, and how much he admires them, is an awful thing for Henry to hear, carrying as it does a terrible reproach for his own cowardice. But then it gets even worse. Given that his listener is Henry, there is deep irony in the tattered soldier’s tale of meeting a boy from Georgia who said that the Union boys would run once they heard a gun. “Well, they didn’t run t’day, did they, hey?” he says to Henry (ch. 8. p. 66). Of course, Henry can make no response. Then twice the tattered soldier asks Henry, in all good intent, where he is wounded. It seems that Henry cannot escape from being reminded of his act of cowardice. All the men he meets now have visible badges of courage—their bleeding wounds. Henry’s wound is indeed internal and invisible, as the tattered soldier believes, although what the soldier means by that is something quite different from the reality.
The contrast between Jim and Henry reaches its starkest moment here. They have similar backgrounds. They have known each other since childhood. But Jim faced up to his responsibilities and paid the heaviest price a man can pay. No wonder Henry is tortured by grief at Jim’s fate, since it is inextricably mixed up with his own feelings of guilt, which can only become worse as a result of his friend’s death.