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Compréhension écrite n°3 - Niveau III


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"The youth was in a little trance of astonishment. So they were at last going to fight. On the morrow, perhaps, there would be a battle, and he would be in it. For a time he was obliged to labor to make himself believe. He could not accept with insurance an omen1 that he was about to mingle in one of those great affairs of the earth.
He had, of course, dreamed of battles all his life – of vague and bloody conflicts that had thrilled him with their sweep2 and fire. In vision he had seen himself in many struggles. He had imagined people secure in the shadow of his eagle-eyed prowess. […]
One night, as he lay in bed, the winds had carried to him the clangoring of the church bell as some enthusiast jerked3 the rope frantically to tell the twisted news of a great battle. This voice of the people rejoicing in the night had made him shiver in a prolonged ecstasy of excitement. Later, he had gone down to his mother’s room and had spoken thus: “Ma, I’m going to enlist”. […]

(Much later, Henry Fleming – the youth – has just run from the field during his first battle.)

He turned away, amazed and angry. He felt that he had been wronged. He had fled4, he told himself, because annihilation approached. He had done a good part in saving himself, who was a little piece of the army. He had considered the time, he said, to be one in which it was the duty of every little piece to rescue itself if possible. Later, the officers could fit the little pieces together again, and make a battle front. If none of the little pieces were wise enough to save themselves from the flurry5 of death at such a time, why, then, where would be the army? It was all plain that he had proceeded according to every correct and commendable rules. His actions had been sagacious things. They had been full of strategy.
Thoughts of his comrade came to him. The brittle6 blue line had withstood7 the blows and won. He grew bitter over it. It seemed that the blind ignorance and stupidity of those little pieces had betrayed him. He had been overturned8 and crushed by their lack of sense in holding the position, when intelligent deliberation would have convinced them that it was impossible. He, the enlightened man who looks afar in the dark, had fled because of his superior perceptions and knowledge. He felt a great anger against his comrades. He knew it could be proved they had been fools.
He wondered what they would remark when later he appeared in camp. His mind heard howls of derision. Their destiny would not enable them to understand his sharper point of view.
He began to pity himself acutely. He was ill used. He was trodden beneath the feet of an iron injustice. He had proceeded with wisdom from the most righteous motives under heaven’s blue only to be frustrated by hateful circumstances. […] He shambled9 along with bowed head, his brain in a tumult of agony and despair. When he looked lowering up, quivering at each sound, his eyes had the expression of those of a criminal who thinks his guilt and his punishment great, and knows that he can find no words."

Stephen Crane - The Red Badge of Courage (1895)

1. Présage
2. Ampleur
3. Secouer
4. Flee - Fled - Fled : S’enfuir
5. Tourbillon - Agitation soudaine
6. Fragile - Cassant
7. Withstand : Résister à
8. Renverser
9. Aller d’un pas traînant

  • Question 1 To what extent can we say that the youth thinks he has a divine mission in this war ?
  • Question 2 During the battle, after he fled, show how he thinks he paradoxically saved the army.
  • Question 3

    Show the differences of behaviour and perception between Henry Fleming and his comrades.

  • Question 4 In your own words, explain his feelings at the end of the text. (50 words)
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