noise of the battle grows louder and Henry watches a column
of retreating men and wagons. Because they are retreating, he
feels a kind of vindication of his own actions. Then he sees
a column of infantry moving in the other direction, toward the
battle. This fills him with misery. He feels he can never be
like these men, who are filled with glory. But then for a few
moments, he wants to join them, and he visualizes himself doing
great deeds on the battlefield. Then he realizes how difficult
such a course of action would be—he has no rifle, and
does not know where his regiment is. His mind goes this way
and that, until he abandons his plan to return to battle. At
about this time he becomes conscious of the many ailments that
afflict him. He has a raging thirst, every bone in his body
aches, and he is hungry. He becomes even more despondent, and
believes that he will never become a hero. But he still seeks
moral vindication. He reasons that if his army has been defeated,
this could have advantages for him. Whole regiments would be
shattered and scattered; many brave men would have been forced
to desert. He would then be able to appear as just like one
of them—even better in fact, he reasons, since his superior
powers of perception had enabled him to see the coming defeat
much earlier than others, and to take the only appropriate action.
Then his mind turns again, and he regards himself as a villain
and wishes he was dead. He convinces himself that it is not
possible that his army should be defeated, and he tries to think
up a plausible story he could take back to his regiment to explain
his absence. But he cannot invent a story that does not have
holes in it, and he imagines the derision he will face from
his comrades if he returns.
more retreating soldiers coming fast in his direction. Soon
he is in the midst of them. The scene is chaotic. Henry tries
to talk to one of the men, but the man is in a rage and he hits
Henry on the head with his rifle. Henry collapses on the ground
and rises only with great difficulty. His head is bleeding.
The scene is still chaotic, and he moves away from it. He can
hear the sounds of a huge battle taking place and he hurries
on as dusk comes, worrying about the wound he has sustained.
His head feels swollen, and he gets very weary. Another soldier
sees him and starts to walk with him. He is friendly, asks Henry
a lot of questions and talks a lot, telling stories of the battle.
He finds out which regiment Henry is in, and guides him back
In these chapters Henry’s mind swings from one extreme
to another. He has no stable point of reference. He does not
know how he should think of himself, so he fluctuates between
moral justifications of his act and bitter self-condemnation.
He fully realizes the difficult position he is in, because he
will surely be found out by his men if he should return to his
regiment. At this point he is like a leaf in a breeze. He has
fallen from the main branch of the tree and the wind now takes
him wherever it will. He is no longer in control of his own
life. He does not know who he is or what his role in life is
to be. It is the lowest point in his fortunes.
The soldier who helps
Henry back to his regiment is never named. Henry does not even
see his face. Since Henry’s return to his own regiment
is the beginning of his rehabilitation, the incident with the
friendly, unnamed soldier suggests that even in the midst of
this terrible situation, a kind of mysterious grace is operating
in Henry’s life. He is to be given a second chance.