Q: When Stephen Crane refers to the "Greeklike" struggles of the past and his narrator says that people have lost their "throat-grappling instinct" what is he saying about war?
A: He is referencing the stories of Homer and the heroic figures he has read about in the past. He is saying that he thinks people are not the same as they once were, not as strong physically and psychologically. He is wondering how he will perform as a soldier when tested. Will he be courageous?
Q: What does Henry Fleming think war will be like? Why is he compelled to enlist? What does this have to do with his "eagle-eyed prowess"?
A: Initially, Henry is drawn to enlist by the thrills he expects to experience in war. He thinks that it will be exciting and he expects that it will soon be over, so he wants to join it before it is too late. He is somewhat naïve about war and he imagines himself doing great deeds with his "eagle-eyed prowess".
Q: What is Henry's mother's response and why is he disappointed in her response? What advice does she give him when she finally accepts that he is going to war?
A: Henry's mother wants him to stay and work on the farm. She reluctantly accepts the inevitable when he tells her that he is going off to war and tells him to stay away from anyone who has bad values. She tells him that she has packed him extra socks, hardly the exciting "come back with your shield or upon it" that Henry would like to hear. (Remember the expression "Come back with your shield or upon it" as a phrase from the Greek tradition. It suggests that you should fight to the death rather than run from danger, hence return with your shield victorious or upon it dead.)
Q: Why is the "youthful private" Henry Fleming often referred to simply as "the youth"?
A: Stephen Crane is depicting "universal soldiers" that existed in other wars as well. Here Henry is more than just an individual character, he represents the youthful perspective on war.
Q: What fuels Henry's excitement about going to war? What is his initial attitude as he leaves his home and goes off to war? What causes Henry to lose some of his enthusiasm?
A. Henry thinks war will be thrilling and exciting like what he has read about in stories. He begins to lose his enthusiasm when what happens initially is just a lot of waiting: a "blue demonstration". They drill and wait for a lengthy period of time.
Q: What question plagues Henry throughout the entire story? What is the basis of his internal conflict?
A: Will I be courageous? Will I be able to fight bravely? His internal conflict centers around how he perceives himself. In some ways he is still a child at the beginning of the novel because he has not tested himself and he is very uncertain of himself. He looks to others to measure himself and his success. He lacks confidence and he is pretty self-centered.
Q: What monster does Henry reference at various times in the novel? Early in the novel the narrator says that Henry, "admitted that he would not be able to cope with this monster." What monster is he referencing?
A: The monster that he refers to here is the terrible monster of war. He also calls war a terrible machine that tears men up and spits them out and he refers to a it as a terrible war god. Remember all that imagery of fiendish eyes looking out at him from the darkness and all the talk of the monster devouring or eating Henry and his men? That all refers to the monster of war.
"The battle was like the grinding of an immense and terrible machine to him. Its complexities and powers, its grim processes, fascinated him. He must go close and see it produce corpses" (57).
"The torn bodies expressed the awful machinery in which the men had been entangled" (58).
"The brigade was hurrying briskly to be gulped into the infernal mouths of the war god. What manner of men were they anyhow" (49).
Q: Why were veteran army groups smaller? Why did they wear a variety of hats? What does this show us about the reality of the Civil War?
A: They have been fighting longer and are a mixed lot of men who joined the army at various different points in time. Henry's regiment is new and fresh and this is visible through the way they are dressed. This shows that many men died in the Civil War and that it was not the glorious endeavor Henry expected it to be.
Q: The narrator says Henry "felt carried along by a mob" and that Henry was "in a moving box"? Was he literally in a box? How is he describing his situation both physically and mentally with this description?
A: Henry feels carried along physically because he is part of a collective group moving in one direction. This is not, however, the only force that influences his behavior. He is also influenced by expectations placed upon a soldier and hence placed upon him. He feels a strong sense of responsibility and wants to do the right thing as he heads into battle. He strongly identifies with the group and is starting to feel a bond to the group that later leads him to say that he feels like a part of a hand.
"But instantly he saw that it would be impossible for him to escape from the regiment. It enclosed him. And there were iron laws of tradition and law on four sides. He was in a moving box"(24).
Q: What is all of the imagery of dragons about? Is this a symbol and a motif in the story?
A: This goes along with the references to the monster of war. Dragons in stories typically are defeated by brave and gallant knights. Remember, Henry's perceptions of what a hero is relate directly to those stories. At times when he is experiencing success, he sees himself as a knight slaying dragons.
"To the youth it was an onslaught of redoubtable dragons. He became like the man who lost his legs at the approach of the red and green monster. He waited in a sort of a horrified, listening attitude. He seemed to shut his eyes and wait to be gobbled" (46).
"the initial morsels for the dragons would be then those who were following him" (47).
"As he listened, he imagined them to have rows of cruel teeth that grinned at him" (47).
Q: What does the of imagery of snakes / serpents represent in the story? Is this a symbol and a motif in the story?
The snakes and serpents are images that create a tone that is suspenseful. They suggest the danger that lies ahead and they relate to the fears that lurk in Henry's mind. The narrator describes the movements of the troops with words that relate to snakes because they move in lines in a way that resembles the movement of a snake. These are repeated symbols in the story that we see in many chapters; repeated patterns that become symbolically important are referred to as motifs.
"The blue smoke-swallowed line curled and writhed like a snake stepped upon. It swung its ends to and fro in an agony of fear and rage."
Q: When does the youth see himself as a knight? How does this relate to the motif of dragons?
A: "Regarding it, he saw that it was fine, wild, and, in some ways, easy. He had been a tremendous figure, no doubt. By this struggle he had overcome obstacles which he had admitted to be mountains. They had fallen like paper peaks, and he was now what he called a hero. And he had not been aware of the process. He had slept and, awakening, found himself a knight." When Henry experiences some success in battle he begins to see himself as a knight. A knight slays dragons right? What is significant about how Henry overstates his success here? Does this remind you of his earlier notions of war? Remember, but a few pages later, he learns that the generals see him and his men as "mule drivers".
Q: Why is nature imagery so important? Why is nature sometimes capitalized? Is this a motif?
A: Nature is sometimes capitalized when the author is referring to it as a proper noun, like Mother Nature. Remember, personification adds layers of meaning to writing. Sometimes the narrator personifies nature like after Henry runs and he sees the squirrel and thinks that Nature is sending him a sign that it was a prudent and intelligent thing to run when faced with danger (a "sagacious" thing). There are many places where nature imagery contributes to the tone of the novel. The blue sky is often shown in contrast to the smoke and the carnage (death, bodies, destruction) of the battlefield. In spite of the war, nature remains constant in her tranquility and beauty. Nature is also a motif in the story.
Q: What important thing does Henry find in the "chapel" of the woods? Why is it important and is it really a chapel?
A: No, it is not really a chapel, just like a chapel because it is a little safe, calm, seemingly guarded place of tranquility away from the war. This is where Henry finds the body of an anonymous soldier. The soldier has been left behind and has ants crawling all over its jaw. The soles of his shoes are worn off showing the difficulties he as endured. This image reminds Henry that war is not the glorious thing that he once thought it was. It is arduous, difficult, and many die lonely deaths. This soldier is not coming home to a parade and accolades, nor is he being buried with glory and honors. This is the reality of war that Henry is now coming to understand.
Q: How does Henry become a part of his unit? At what points does he experience a bond to his regiment? He becomes not a man but a ________________________.
A: He says that he becomes not a man but a member. "He suddenly lost concern for himself, and forgot to look at a menacing fate. He became not a man but a member... For some moments he could flee no more than a little finger can commit a revolution from a hand."
Q: Identify the soldier who is being described by the following simile: "As the flap of the blue jacket faded away from the body, he could see that the side looked as if it had been chewed by wolves". (Whose side is being described here?)
A: This is a description of the tall soldier, Jim Conklin. Henry witnesses Jim's death and it has a profound impact upon him because Jim was his friend. The reality of war really sinks in when he sees his death.
Q: "The simple questions of ________________________ had been knife thrusts to him."
A: The tattered man: Henry abandons the tattered man because the man keeps asking him where he is wounded. This shows Henry's feelings of guilt and his immaturity. At this moment in the novel he cares more about himself and his own feelings of guilt, his own ego, than he does about showing compassion to a kind man who is near to death.
Q: What literary terms apply to the following passage? "The red sun was pasted in the sky like a fierce wafer" (66).
A: This is a simile and it is part of the nature motif in the story.
Q: How does Henry view the leaders of his regiment and the generals who lead them? Why is this important?
A: He does not seem to trust his leaders. They are consistently shown in the story yelling and cursing at their troops. This stands in contrast to the motivation of the troops that we saw in the film clip from "Gettysburg".
"They must not all be killed like pigs; and he was sure it would come to pass unless they were informed of these dangers. The generals were idiots to send them marching into a regular pen"
"Of a sudden another broke out in a querulous way like a man who has mislaid his hat 'Why don't they support us? Why don't they send supports?' "
"They were like critical shepherds struggling with sheep" (117).
Q: How does Henry see his fellow soldiers at the beginning of the novel? Why is this significant?
A: Henry does not have a lot of self confidence. He thinks that he is the only one who is doubting himself. This makes him feel like a "mental outcast".
"Sometimes he inclined to believing them all heroes. In fact, he usually admitted in secret the superior development of the higher qualities in others" (14).
"The youth would have liked to have discovered another who suspected himself."
Q: What does Wilson give to Henry and why is this important?
A: Wilson gives Henry a packet of letters because he thinks he is going to die. This becomes significant because it is something that makes Henry feel better than Wilson and gives him some power over Wilson. One might argue that he should be more sympathetic to Wilson given that he was the one who ran, not Wilson! It shows that Wilson who was loud and bold before battle, changes when he is faced with the reality of war.
Q: Does Henry always take responsibility for his own actions?
A: Henry is a bit of a blame deflector. At one point in the story he even convinces himself that he did not actually volunteer to fight, but rather, was forced to enlist. We know this is not true.
"He had been dragged by the merciless government. And now they were taking him out to be slaughtered"
"He had not enlisted of his own free will. He had been dragged by the merciless government."
"The shadows of the woods were formidable. He was certain that in this vista there lurked fierce-eyed hosts. The swift thought came to him that the generals did not know what they were about. It was all a trap" (26).
Q: How do we learn about Henry differently through this omniscient narrative voice than we would if this story were told directly from Henry's perspective?
A: The omniscient narrator can see into the mind of Henry Fleming. If Henry were telling the story from his first person perspective, he might be biased and he might not tell us the whole story. The omniscient narrator can stand back and see everything, even into the darkest secrets of Henry's mind.
Q: Explain the significance of the following quote: " One or two stepped with overvaliant airs as if they were already plunged into war. Others walked as upon thin ice. The greater part of the untested men appeared quiet and absorbed. They were going to look at war, the red animal - war, the blood-swollen god" (27).
A: Some soldiers act overly bold and confident (perhaps to hide their fears) while others openly show their fears. This shows the psychological reality of war. The mental challenges that soldiers faced were great.
Q: The narrator says that Henry Fleming was like a carpenter making boxes. He also refers to Henry being in a "battle sleep". What is all of this about?
A: Henry methodically shoots without really thinking about what he is doing. The narrator describes his state of mind as being like a trance. He calls this a battle sleep because Henry is not really thinking all that much about what he is doing. His actions are repetitive and he is in a distorted state of mind. This relates to the end of the book when Henry "wakes" from the battle sleep and is finally able to reflect more carefully on all of the things that have happened to him.
"The youth in his battle sleep heard... as one who dozes hears" (40).
Q: What is the importance of the flag in the story? What is a color-bearer?
A: The flag represents the cause they were fighting for. It serves as an inspiration for the troops. The color-bearer was the one to carry the flag into battle. The color-bearer was often a target for the enemy. Henry chooses to be a color-bearer to inspire his troops to keep fighting. He also captures the flag of the Confederate color-bearer at the end of the story.
Q: How does the simile about the flag in this passage demonstrate the importance of the flag as a symbol in the story? . "Here and there were flags, the red in the stripes dominating. They splashed bits of warm color upon the dark lines of troops. The youth felt the old thrill at the sight of the emblem. They were like beautiful birds strangely undaunted in a storm" (43).
A: The flag is often described in a way that shows the morale of the troops. In this passage, we see that the flag helps to motivate Henry and his troops to keep fighting. The flags are beautiful in contrast to the storm of war.
Q: What is the importance of the color red in the story?
A: The color red is repeated throughout the story in association with rage and ravages of war. Red is the color of blood and it is a color associated with passionate emotions.
"Presently he began to feel the effects of the war atmosphere- a blistering sweat, a sensation that his eyeballs were about to crack like hot stones. A burning roar filled his ears. Following this came a red rage" (39).
Q: What is ironic about Henry 's behavior after he initially runs from battle?
A: It is ironic that Henry wants to return to battle very shortly after he first ran; he is drawn to the very thing that he just ran from.
Q: Describe the behavior of the injured men who Henry encounters after running from battle.
A: The injured men include Jim Conklin who the narrator describes as looking like a specter, a spectral soldier. Jim in fact does become "ghostly" as he dies soon after the youth encounters him. This is very hard for the youth and is an example of the harsh realities of war. It makes him angry. There is also the tattered man and a group of other men with various injuries, some of them quite severe. One man carries around a shoe filled with blood as he laughs. Their behavior in general is quite odd, at times hysterical. They seem very vulnerable.
Q: What does Henry realize about the importance of the battle he ran from initially?
A: He realizes that the battle was just a skirmish amongst many larger battles; as an individual is not as important as he thought he was.
Q: Who is being described by the following quote? Pay attention to the revealing details as you formulate your answer: "His gentle voice and eyes pleading... two wounds...a blood soaked rag to his head...arm dangling like a broken bough"
A: Clues: gentle voice, two wounds, injured head, broken arm = the tattered soldier!
Q: Describe the behavior of the tattered soldier. How does Henry treat the tattered soldier and why?
A: The tattered soldier is naive and he is not very educated. He is also extremely talkative! He is a simple man who is fighting for a cause. The genuineness of this character makes him sympathetic to us as readers, but it also brings out the shame in Henry.
Henry tries to ignore the tattered man and is not very kind to him. Most importantly, he ignores the tattered man's please for help and leaves him.
Q: Why does Henry "envy a corpse"? What does it mean when the narrator says, "He thought of the magnificent pathos of his dead body."
A: He thinks that to die in glory would be much better than to suffer as he feels he is suffering as he grapples with his own guilt about running and struggles with his own internal conflicts. Pathos= emotions. He thinks that the glory and the sympathy that would be given to a man who died in battle would be a beautiful thing. In this sense he glorifies dying in war. Nonetheless, he isn't convinced that he really wants to die himself. (He thinks that even the dead are better off than he is--- immaturity perhaps?)
"He regarded the soldier in an envious way... He conceived torn bodies to be happy"
"He envied those men whose bodies lay strewn over the grass."
Q: After he retreats to the woods, why is Henry angry with the other soldiers in his regiment and why does Henry think that a defeat of the Union Army might benefit him? What is moral vindication?
A: He is angry because they did not run and they did not lose the battle. He thinks they should have been more sensible like him. If the Union is defeated he will be redeemed or vindicated because their defeat will show that he was in fact correct to run. A defeat would show that his actions were indeed wise or "sagacious" things.
Mostly, he is angry with himself, but he puts that anger back on his regiment because they are making him look bad. He thinks that if they lose it will be much easier for him to return and to explain his absence. (He doesn't know that he will conveniently be hit on the head with a rifle butt later.) This shows Henry's selfishness as he wants his own men to be defeated so that his ego will be unscathed.
Q: When Henry returns to camp he is less than honest about the events that occurred on the previous day: "For a moment his face lost all its valor and he looked guiltily about him. But no one questioned his right to deal in such words, and presently he recovered his air of courage". What does the expression "air of courage" mean here?
A: Henry is acting as if he was courageous- overacting in fact. He brags to cover the fact that he in fact ran from battle. This is not one of his finer moments.
Q: "In the regiment there was a peculiar kind of hesitation denoted in the attitudes of the men. They were worn, exhausted, having slept but little and labored much. They rolled their eyes toward the advancing battle as they stood awaiting the shock. Some shrank and flinched. They stood as men tied to stakes." Fleming says that he feels "like a kitten in a bag". Why does Henry say that he and the other soldiers at times felt "like a kitten in a bag"?
A: He feels like he is being blindly led and treated like a pawn on a chess board. He doesn't feel like he has a lot of control over his circumstances and this makes him feel helpless.
Q: When Henry goes into the woods after retreating he is said to pity himself "acutely" and he fears the "howls of derision" from his fellow soldiers? He also says Henry thinks his thoughts had been "sagacious things"? What does all of this mean?
A: Henry feels very keenly or strongly sorry for himself. He feels pained by his choice and fears that if he returns to his troops they will mock or make fun of him. He convinces himself that he had been wise to run because he saved himself from what he saw as a certain death to fight again in a future battle.
Q: When Henry is in the woods after fleeing from battle the description of nature shows his state of mind. The narrator says, "The woodpecker stuck his impudent head around the side of the tree" (52). Is a woodpecker really impudent? What literary strategy is being used here and what does this show us about Henry's state of mind?
A: This is yet another example of personification. He feels that even the bird is showing him disrespect. This relates to how Henry fears the other soldiers will see him if he returns to camp after having fled.
Q: What difficult truth does Henry learn when he and Wilson go to refill their canteens? How does this fact motivate Henry in the latter part of the novel?
A: Henry and Wilson overhear two of their commanders talking about his regiment. They say that the men in Henry's regiment are "mule drivers" and that they can be spared in the battle. This unflattering description of his men is unsettling to Henry, and although he and Wilson do not tell anyone else about this, it does serve to motivate him for the remainder of the novel as he tries to vindicate himself and show that he and his men are warriors rather than mule drivers.
Q: Whose flag does Henry carry in battle? Why is this important?
A: Henry carries the Union flag and he also seizes the Confederate flag in an effort to inspire and motivate his troops.
Q: Henry and his regiment think they have pushed back the Confederates, but then they are mocked when they return to the Union line, why? What humiliating fact do Henry and his regiment learn about their previous charge? (Coincidentally, they learn it from the same officer who had previously called them mule drivers.)
A: They learn that they did not hold back the Confederates. They were supposed to be a diversion and they did not keep the Confederates sufficiently busy. So, the other soldiers mock them because they thought they were brave, but their skills were not so great. Henry is somewhat redeemed because he and Wilson are praised for carrying the Union flag.
Q: How is Henry motivated by revenge at the end of the story? Against whom does he want revenge?
A: He wants revenge against the officer who called him and his regiment mule drivers. He wants to show the officer who called his men mule drivers that they are strong and valiant soldiers.
Q: How is Henry's thinking different at the end of the novel in contrast to his thinking in the rest of the final chapters (after the battle versus during the battle)?
A: He thinks much more clearly once the battle is over. It is as if he has awakened from a battle sleep.
Q: What does Henry regret (aside from initially running from battle) as he reflects upon his choices at the end of the novel?
A: Henry regrets that the way that he treated the tattered man. Henry sees now that it was a mistake to ignore the pleading of the tattered man and that it was selfish of him to leave the tattered man behind without any aid only because his questions were painful to Henry.
Q: How does Henry feel about himself at the end of the novel?
A: "He would be a man." "He found that he could look back upon the brass and bombast of his earlier gospels and see them truly. He was gleeful when he discovered that he now despised them. He was emerged from his struggles, with a large sympathy for the machinery of the universe" (154). "He had been to touch the great death, and found that, after all, it was but the great death and was for others. He was a man" (154).