Great Moments in Literature: The Red Sandwich of Courage

08.12.07

By Filed Under: miscellaneous

From Chapter III of Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage:

The youth had been taught that a man became another thing in battle. He saw his salvation in such a change. Hence this waiting was an ordeal to him. He was in a fever of impatience. He considered that there was denoted a lack of purpose on the part of the generals. He began to complain to the tall soldier. “I can’t stand this much longer,” he cried. “I don’t see what good it does to make us wear out our legs for nothin’.” He wished to return to camp, knowing that this affair was a blue demonstration; or else to go into a battle and discover that he had been a fool in his doubts, and was, in truth, a man of traditional courage. The strain of present circumstances he felt to be intolerable.

The philosophical tall soldier measured a sandwich of cracker and pork and swallowed it in a nonchalant manner. “Oh, I suppose we must go reconnoitering around the country jest to keep ’em from getting too close, or to develop ’em, or something.”

“Huh!” said the loud soldier.

“Well,” cried the youth, still fidgeting, “I’d rather do anything ‘most than go tramping ’round the country all day doing no good to nobody and jest tiring ourselves out.”

“So would I,” said the loud soldier. “It ain’t right. I tell you if anybody with any sense was a-runnin’ this army it—”

“Oh, shut up!” roared the tall private. “You little fool. You little damn’ cuss. You ain’t had that there coat and them pants on for six months, and yet you talk as if—”

“Well, I wanta do some fighting anyway,” interrupted the other. “I didn’t come here to walk. I could ‘ave walked to home—’round an’ ’round the barn, if I jest wanted to walk.”

The tall one, red-faced, swallowed another sandwich as if taking poison in despair.

But gradually, as he chewed, his face became again quiet and contented. He could not rage in fierce argument in the presence of such sandwiches. During his meals he always wore an air of blissful contemplation of the food he had swallowed. His spirit seemed then to be communing with the viands.

“He could not rage in fierce argument in the presence of such sandwiches.” I think that’s all that needs saying.

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