Private Fleming at Chancellorsville: The Red Badge of Courage and the Civil War

By Perry Lentz | Go to book overview

Chapter 7
Private Fleming and
Major General Hooker

Private Henry Fleming's triumphant conduct on the morning of May 3— which earns Lieutenant Hasbrouck's praise, the "awe-struck" regard of his fellow soldiers, and his own belief that he is now "a hero" and "a knight"—is principally enabled by the fact that he is now acclimated to the phenomena of infantry combat. His unfocused nervous energy of May 2, which generated self-pitying paranoia, disorganized his perceptions, and from which his imagination produced pursuing "dragons," shells with "cruel teeth," and hateful "little gods and big gods," he is now able to bring into proper focus. Now this energy generates in him a "wild hate" toward the rebel infantrymen advancing upon the position held by the 304th New York (RBC 164). He crouches behind a tree, armed once more with a rifle (165), awaiting them. But it is his "self-pride" that brings him to the literal place and moment where his experience can focus his energy; his "self-pride" has been "entirely restored" (149). The process of this restoration is consistent with the impenetrable solipsism of his character. This process and what follows from it are richly and doubly ironic: ironic in the context of the developing narrative and ironic in the context of the military history from which the narrative, with consistent precision, is drawn.

-187-

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