Literature and Composition
Nov. 3rd 2014 “The Red Badge of Courage” by Stephen Crane is an allegory about the growth of a boy as he transitions into manhood through the emotional struggles of war. The protagonist Henry Fleming is driven to enlist by his desire for glory; his confidence, enthusiasm, and ignorance. As the story and war continues, we see Henry’s confidence begin to dwindle as he experiences the realism of war. He struggles with fear in the face of death and personal growth into a man over just a few days.
Henry, in his hometown, hearing the news of great battles decides to enlist despite his mother’s wishes for him to stay on the farm.
He had burned several times to enlist. Tales of great movements shook the land. They might not be distinctly Homeric, but there seemed to be much glory in them. He had read of marches, sieges, conflicts, and he had longed to see it all. His busy mind had drawn for him large pictures extravagant in color, lurid with breathless deeds. Once enlisted, the truth of war starts to become evident to Henry as fellow soldiers tell him stories of men that run away during battle. As Henry experiences his first battle, he sees the truth of war, as other soldiers run, fleeing for their lives. Henry still remains confident that he will not flee in his search for glory.
The supreme trial had been passed. The red, formidable difficulties of war had been vanquished. He went into an ecstasy of self-satisfaction. He had the most delightful sensations of his life. Standing as if apart from himself, he viewed that last scene. He perceived that the man who had fought thus was magnificent. He felt that he was a fine fellow. He saw himself even with those ideals which he had considered as far beyond him. He smiled in deep gratification. It is not until Henry does witness his first dead body, that we see a glimpse of his confidence starting to falter.
Henry’s confidence begins to grow again when they experience success in battle. As the tides turn and the enemy does gain ground, Henry finds himself wanting to run away. Henry and other soldiers decide to flee. Still chasing glory, Henry does his best to rationalize his actions for himself and others. After fleeing, Henry joins a group of injured soldiers, who make him feel guilty for running. Henry begins to envy these injured men and their “red badge of courage”. But he was amid wounds. The mob of men was bleeding. Because of the tattered soldier's question he now felt that his shame could be viewed. He was continually casting sidelong glances to see if the men were contemplating the letters of guilt he felt burned into his brow. At times he regarded the wounded soldiers in an envious way. He conceived persons with torn bodies to be peculiarly happy. He wished that he, too, had a wound, a red badge of courage. His desire for courage does not override his fear and Henry finds himself legitimizing fear with his prophecy of being defeated.
Henry returns to camp claiming he has been shot in the head and finds Wilson who bandages him as they talk about the battles. Henry learns that he was one of many soldiers that ran off into the woods and fought with other regiments. This is the turning point in Henry’s growth throughout the novel; the fact that he was not the only one fearing battle and death gave Henry confidence. a faith in himself had secretly blossomed. There was a little flower of confidence growing within him. He was now a man of experience. He had been out among the dragons, he said, and he assured himself that they were not so hideous as he had imagined them. Also, they were inaccurate; they did not sting with precision. A stout heart often defied, and defying, escaped.
Henry took the confidence into the forest as he and the regiment waited…