Private Fleming's Evening Hegira
"He Must Be a Hero"
The following is from the first chapter of The Red Badge of Courage. Consider how it probably registers in a reader's mind—and why. "On the way to Washington his spirit had soared. The regiment was fed and caressed at station after station until the youth had believed that he must be a hero. There was a lavish expenditure of bread and cold meats, coffee, and pickles and cheese. As he basked in the smiles of the girls and was patted and complimented by the old men, he had felt growing within him the strength to do mighty deeds of arms" (RBC 10–11). A reader is completely certain that Private Fleming at this moment is in the grip of an illusion. Were he to march from Washington directly to the field of battle and there immediately prove that his belief about his heroism is correct, a reader would be flabbergasted.
Not only do readers know exactly what to anticipate from this paragraph, they already (and far in advance) have anticipated encountering it and already (likewise far in advance) have anticipated that it will be significant enough to remark, register, or (if they are students in a course of literature) underline it. These anticipations are so confident, in fact, they quite likely cause the typical first-time reader to highlight this passage in such a way as to overvalue it, and then to ignore the three subsequent paragraphs, which show that Private Fleming's assumption of his own "heroism" here is only momentary. It is soon submerged in the dreary wintertime routines of the Army of the Potomac.