Self-Deception: An Analysis of Chapter Six in The Red Badge of Courage

August 27, 2019 by Essay Writer

In chapter six of Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, protagonist Henry Fleming flees from battle in a panic. When, in the next chapter, he hears that the remaining members of his regiment defeated the enemy without his assistance, he suddenly feels resentful. As is demonstrative of his self-deceiving ways, Henry avoids his latent feelings of shame and inadequacy by reassuring himself that their actions were foolish, as any sensible man would be chiefly motivated by self-preservation, and thus would run. In an effort to escape the chaos of fighting, Henry walks into the forest, engrossed by his thoughts. Amidst the comfort of nature, he throws a pinecone at a nearby squirrel, and it in turn scampers away. Henry interprets the squirrel’s reaction as proof of man’s instinct to survive regardless of the circumstances. Soon afterward, he wanders into a chapel-like forest grove, within which he discovers the corpse of a soldier in a blue uniform. Henry stares at the body, his eyes unwillingly fixed on the hideous site, and then stumbles out of the clearing in horror.As a whole, the instances of direct and indirect characterization in conjunction with metaphor and symbol allow the reader to gain insight into Henry’s psyche and establish the overall significance of the chapter. By exploring the concepts of self-deception as a means of coping with an unfavorable reality and moreover the unfavorable reality itself – that nature provides a final resting place for all people indifferently, heroic and cowardly alike – Crane creates meaning for the reader.In a rather satirical manner, Crane uses diction to indirectly characterize Henry in the beginning of chapter seven. When Henry finds the time to analyze his actions after running away from the battle, Crane writes of him: “[His] actions had been sagacious things. They had been full of strategy..2E[He was] the enlightened man who looks afar in the dark, had fled because of his superior perceptions and knowledge” (Crane 82). Crane intends for the his depiction of Henry to be quite ironical, hence he employs three powerful, and even exaggerated words – “sagacious,” “strategy,” and “superior” – in the above passage. The terms “sagacious” and “strategic” (from “strategy”) connote superior discernment, foresight, and shrewdness, and “superior,” in turn, connotes extreme and utmost excellence. Overall, Henry justifies running away from battle by convincing himself of his supreme “perceptions and knowledge”; however, the reader is well aware that in actuality, Henry flees because he is inexperienced and in a panic.In addition, by likening Henry to the figurative “enlightened man who looks afar in the dark,” Crane once again achieves the opposite effect. This is evinced by another metaphor, from the second paragraph of the chapter, which reads: “[Henry] lifted himself upon his toes and looked in the direction of the fight. A yellow fog law wallowing in on the treetops”. The word “yellow” denotes not only the actual color Crane refers to, but also baseness and cowardice. Furthermore, Crane’s kinesthetic image of the fog “wallowing,” or indolently rolling over the treetops adds to the feeling as the term also signifies a condition of degradation and lowness. Crane shows that when Henry physically stands up on his toes and peers into the horizon, the first image he sees is a yellow fog, which represents abject fear, obscuring the sky; therefore, he is unenlightened, the absolute opposite of the man who “looks afar in the dark”.With the help of Crane’s indirect acknowledgement of Henry’s cowardice, which contradicts the outward grandiosity and egotism of the young soldier, the reader can deduce that perhaps Henry’s apparent arrogance is truly a manifestation of his deep-seated feelings of incompetence and disgrace. Likewise, Henry merely deceives himself in avoidance of his true, unheroic self2EHenry uses self-deceit yet again in a latter part of the chapter. As he enters the forest, instead of perceiving all of nature, he perverts the squirrel’s reaction to the pinecone in another effort to justify his actions. Crane writes: “The youth felt triumphant at this exhibition. There was a law, he said. Nature had given him a sign” (Crane 87). Henry’s distorted interpretation of the squirrel’s actions as a “law” and a “sign” in order to alleviate his subconscious shame and subsequently restore his pride demonstrates the subjectivity and invalidity of his ideals and emotions.After convincing himself that intrinsic laws govern humanity, Henry abruptly stumbles upon a corpse:The corpse was dressed in a uniform that had once been blue, but was now faded to a melancholy shade of green… Over the gray skin of the face ran little ants. One was trundling some sort of bundle along the upper lip…the dead man and the living man exchanged a long look. (Crane 88)As Crane writes, the corpse’s uniform has faded from blue, like that of Henry’s uniform, to a “melancholy shade of green”. Not only is the term “melancholy,” which connotes dullness and glumness, but also the actual color of the uniform significant. The reader assumes that a blue uniform would fade into a light blue or gray tone, yet the dead soldier’s uniform is a dusty green color. Perhaps Crane intends for the unusual color of the uniform to act as merely one facet of the portrayal of unity of life and death present in the above passage. Specifically, the uniform, which is the color of life and nature, envelops the dead man like an ivy or moss growth, camouflaging him into the scenery. Moreover, energetic little ants crawl and drag food – the sustainment of life – over the man’s decomposing face, once again evincing the concept of life continuing over death and the converse.Blending into the scenery in an almost unrecognizable uniform, the dead soldier does not expose much about himself; he just is. Crane uses the symbolic soldier to demonstrate not only that death becomes an undistinguishable and insignificant part of the “big picture” of nature and life, but also that nature accepts all dead creatures, regardless of how cowardly or courageous they may be. The soldier’s anonymity further reinforces this idea, as the reader is unable to draw any conclusions regarding the corpse’s character. Finally, by identifying with the dead soldier through eye contact and sharing the same type of uniform, Henry begins to visualize himself in the corpse’s position. When he physically sees eye-to-eye with the dead man (“The dead man…”), Crane figuratively suggests that the meeting has forced him to reevaluate himself and his motivations in life (88).As aforesaid, Crane’s use of indirect and direct characterization, metaphor, and symbol allow the reader to penetrate and expose Henry’s soul and gain meaning from the text. Overall, chapter 7 marks an important turning point for the maturation of Henry Fleming. Whereas before the young soldier was chiefly concerned with the superficial belief that humans should be measured by heroism or cowardice, the events of this chapter, specifically Henry’s encounter with the corpse, prompt an epiphany within him. The reader is finally able to gather that within the chapter, Henry is ultimately forced to abandon his preconceived notions of honor and dishonor and realize that when death comes, nature accommodates everyone impartially, thus courage and cowardice are absolutely insignificant.

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