After fleeing from his first battle, Henry encounters a group of wounded men retreating, including his friend Jim, who has been fatally shot and is dying. In describing Jim’s final moments, Crane creates an allegory of Jesus Christ’s death:
Suddenly, his form stiffened and straightened. Then it was shaken by a prolonged ague. He stared into space. To the two watchers there was a curious and profound dignity in the firm lines of his awful face.
Jim walks for a long period of time before finally stopping in a field, much as Christ carried his cross to the site of his own death. He dies standing up with his arms outstretched, mirroring Christ’s position on the cross. The “profound dignity” that appears on his face in his last moments echoes the acceptance with which Christ, in biblical narratives, endured his crucifixion. Crane also uses religious language outside this passage to strengthen the allegory, describing Jim’s movements as “rite-like" (as in performing a religious rite).
In Christian theology, Christ’s death is meaningful because it secures the salvation of humankind. But Jim’s death carries no such meaning; it’s simply random and brutal. Crane draws this allegory in order to ultimately point out the horrible differences between these two deaths. Through the allegory, the novel argues that death and suffering in real-life wars bear no resemblance to popular narratives about bravery or heroism. Rather than serving a larger purpose or imbuing a soldier with dignity, these deaths are pointless and dehumanizing.
After Jim’s death, Henry notices that “the red sun was pasted in the sky like a wafer.” This language evokes the Communion wafer, a powerful Christian symbol that affirms the religious significance of Christ’s death. By invoking Christ’s death in this sinister, discomforting image, Crane implicitly argues that people should not apply religious narratives to war or comfort themselves with misconceived ideas of nobly self-sacrificing soldiers. This moment doesn’t immediately shock Henry out of his naive preoccupation with his own capacity (or lack thereof) for bravery; in the following chapters, he’s still primarily concerned with hiding from his regiment the fact that he fled in battle. But Jim’s death does ultimately contribute to Henry’s disillusionment with the war machine, and the corresponding moral growth he achieves by the end of the novel.