Henry is fascinated with corpses in his search for answers about courage, glory, and self-sacrifice. He had initially believed that a glorious death would give him everlasting fame. But in the war, he sees corpses landing in awkward positions and looking betrayed. In doing so, they show the grotesque reality of war and reveal death as meaningless. In particular, the dead soldier in the "chapel" in the forest does not seem glorious to Henry—it's just a mound of rotting meat. Its pointless death defies any effort to find meaning in death itself.
Corpses Quotes in The Red Badge of Courage
The The Red Badge of Courage quotes below all refer to the symbol of Corpses. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one: Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of The Red Badge of Courage published in 2005.).
Chapter 3 Quotes
The ranks opened covertly to avoid the corpse. ... The youth looked keenly at the ashen face. ... He vaguely desired to walk around and around the body and stare; the impulse of the living to try to read in dead eyes the answer to the Question.
Chapter 5 Quotes
Under foot there were a few ghastly forms motionless. They lay twisted in fantastic contortions. Arms were bent and heads were turned in incredible ways. It seemed that the dead men must have fallen from some great height to get into such positions. They looked to be dumped out upon the ground from the sky.
Chapter 7 Quotes
He was being looked at by a dead man who was seated with his back against a columnlike tree. The corpse was dressed in a uniform that once had been blue, but was now faded to a melancholy shade of green. The eyes, staring at the youth, had changed to the dull hue to be seen on the side of a dead fish. The mouth was open. Its red had changed to an appalling yellow. Over the gray skin of the face ran little ants. One was trundling some sort of a bundle along the upper lip. ... The dead man and the living man exchanged a long look.
Chapter 8 Quotes
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.
Chapter 11 Quotes
As he watched his envy grew ... Swift pictures of himself, apart, yet in himself, came to him—a blue desperate figure leading lurid charges with one knee forward and a broken blade high—a blue, determined figure standing before a crimson and steel assault, getting calmly killed on a high place before the eyes of all. He thought of the magnificent pathos of his dead body.
Chapter 23 Quotes
The youth's friend went over the obstruction in a tumbling heap and sprang at the flag as a panther at prey. He pulled at it and, wrenching it free, swung up its red brilliancy with a mad cry of exultation even as the color bearer, gasping, lurched over in a final throe and, stiffening convulsively, turned his dead face to the ground.
Corpses Symbol Timeline in The Red Badge of Courage
The timeline below shows where the symbol Corpses appears in The Red Badge of Courage. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
...that resembles a chapel. In this "chapel," Henry is horrified to discover a Union soldier's corpse. Ants are running over its discolored face and swarming up to its dull eyes, and... (full context)
...Looking around in the grayish light of dawn, Henry mistakes the other sleeping soldiers for corpses. A second later he realizes they're alive, but he feels his vision may come true... (full context)
...fire dwindles away. The smoke clears and the field is empty, except for some twisted corpses. Victorious, the blue soldiers cheer hoarsely, proud for having proved that "they were men." (full context)
...of "mule drivers" and "mud diggers." Henry thinks his final revenge will be his own dead body lying on the battlefield. Wilson and the lieutenant are nearby, but the regiment is growing... (full context)