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Summary of Chapter 9
Henry returns to walking along with the retreating soldiers. He worries that the soldiers may recognize that he has run from the battle and that they are looking at him and “contemplating the letters of guilt he felt burned into his brow.” Indeed, he envies the wounded soldiers and wishes for an emblem of battle, his own “[little] red badge of courage,” — the first reference to the novel’s title and a symbol of bravery — rather than having the feelings of guilt which he must keep within. Henry sees “the spectral soldier” stumbling along, waving others away, wanting to be alone. On closer scrutiny, Henry realizes that this dying soldier is Jim Conklin.
Henry is overcome with grief at the sight of Jim’s condition. Jim recognizes Henry and tells him that he has only one fear — that he may be run over by a battery coming along the road. He asks Henry to get him out of the road, to keep him safe, if a battery approaches; Henry is so overcome with emotion that he can’t answer his friend except with wild gestures. At that point, the tattered soldier overtakes Henry, and the two try to help Jim, but he waves them off. Suddenly, Jim begins to run through the field, followed by Henry and the tattered soldier. Jim stops, and, after several body-shaking convulsions, he stands tall and then dies.
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Jim Conklin (“the tall soldier”)
Jim Conklin or “the Tall Soldier” is the more experienced and mature soldier, particularly compared to Henry at the outset of the novel. He is confident enough not to brag or to claim that he wouldn’t “run” if things got very bad. Jim is calm and practical and usually relaxed. He even makes fun of himself and of the soldiers’ situation at times.
But, to tell you the truth, the most important thing Jim does in this story is die. Jim’s death is a HUGE DEAL for Henry, and it brings our discussion around to an important piece of The Red Badge of Courage: religious stuff.
Let’s start by thinking about Jim Conklin’s initials. J.C. Can you think of anyone else with those initials? Yes, that’s right – Jim is the resident Jesus figure here. Which means that his horrible, grisly, painful death scene probably has something to do with sacrifice or martyrdom. On closer look, you’ll find that the passage indeed has mention of “whipping,” a “solemn ceremony,” and “bloody hands,” and an injury in his side (where Jesus was stabbed with a spear). Crane even describes the dying man as “a devotee of a mad religion” (9.37).
Jim’s final moment is absolutely horrific in its vulnerability, and the deliberate religious references seem to ask, “Where is God in all of this?” Because Crane abandons poetic grandeur in favor of stark realism, there is no resurrection for this Christ figure, nor is there anything noble or beautiful about his death. In this way, you can read the scene as an ironic twist on Jesus’ crucifixion.
Or, you could not. Instead, you could argue that Jim really is a genuine (not ironic) Christ-figure whose painful death helps to “redeem” Henry. He sets the example for Henry, as if saying, “This is what it means to be a man.” Watching Jim die is yet another trial and lesson learned for young Henry Fleming, who we know does eventually become a real man by the end of the novel.
Our first impressions of a person are hard to shake. A quick judgement is made, and we either like or dislike the person or thing immediately. The same goes for literary characters. In the instance of Jim Conklin, a character in Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage, he seems impetuous and gullible to rumors. He goes down to wash his shirt, hears a rumor about the regiment moving, and rushes back to let everyone know that they are on the move.
The tall soldier, as Jim is first introduced, rushes back to his regiment to share the news about the movement. Everyone has questions for him. Others don’t believe him. Jim almost comes to blows with one soldier over the veracity of his proclamation. This instance gives a bit more information about Jim. He is willing to defend himself and his beliefs. So, in addition to being tall and quick to spread rumors, Jim also has strong convictions. Based on this, Jim appears to be one of those characters who will plod steadily throughout the novel and live up to his responsibilities. This projection is supported when Jim and Henry Fleming first meet.
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