The Red Badge of Courage

Themes

The greatest shame for any man is to receive a harangue by comrades calling him/her a coward. In The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, this is exactly what the main character, Henry Fleming, does his best to defer. One of Henrys serious problems was that he fled from a battle during the Civil War for selfish reasons. He realizes that it was a big mistake to desert them and the guilt that accompanies it almost compelled him to tell his unknown comrades, but he decides not to because he does not want to be a coward.

In the beginning of the novel, Henrys’ friend, Jim, brought back news that the regiment was going to attack the enemy Henry started to wonder if he would stay and fight or would he flee like a mouse? He started to ask some of his friends what they would do. One of his friends, Wilson, had a narcissistic attitude towards the war and life in general and a quick temper. When Henry asked him, he was enraged by the stupidity of his friend, And I didnt say I was the bravest man in the world, neither. I said I was going to do my share of fightingthats what I said. And I am, too. Who are you, anyhow? You talk as if you thought you was Napoleon Bonaparte (18). Henry asked Jim the same question. But, Jims response was different than Wilsons, Ive thought it might get too hot for Jim Conklin in some of them scrimmages, and if a whole lot of boys started and run, why, I spose Id start and run. And if I once started to run, Id run like the devil, and make no mistake. But if everybody was a-standing and a-fighting, why, Id stand and fight. Be jiminey, I would (10).

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Henry decided that the only way he would ever solve this would require him be in a battle. After fighting he would then see how he would react, He finally concluded that the only way to prove himself was to go into the blaze, and then figuratively to watch his legs to discover their merits and faults (11).
When the time comes to fight the regiments first battle, Henry does not desert his regiment as he had worried about, For some moments he couldnt flee (33). Thus, he can allude a logical conclusion about his dilemma being over, The supreme trial had been passed. The red, formidable difficulties of war had been vanquished (37). Yet in actuality, his problems have just begun. The next battle Henry faces he and a few others from his regiment run like rabbits (39) because they thought that the regiment would have been annihilated. Later, he realizes that what he did was a mistake and regrets running and becomes suicidal, He now thought that he wished he was dead. He believed that he envied those men whose bodies lay strewn over the grass of the fields and on the fallen leaves of the forest (60). Henry considers himself a coward for deserting those brave men who fought to the best of their ability and won.
Henry starts to wander the forest hes in, and eventually comes across a Tattered Soldier, and later, his friend, Jim. The Tattered Soldier was really nice to Henry and tried to start a conversation, but Henry was to engrossed with his problems that he treated him very brashly. A little while later, he realizes that the person next to him is his friend Jim. Henry and the Tattered Soldier watch Jim die a slow death, causing Henry great grief. After Jim dies, Henry deserts the Tattered Soldier leaving him wandering about helplessly in the field (60). Henry keeps on wandering and eventually stumbles onto a large group of people fleeing. He stops one of them to ask what was going on, but receives a vicious blow to the skull with the butt of a rifle giving him a wound. Henry finds his regiment with a help of a fellow soldier, and fabricates a story explaining how he received his head wound in a battle with another regiment. Now, Henry has a new and even worse moral dilemma, he doesnt know if he should tell his friends the truth and take the consequences, or not and keep living a lie. His narcissistic friend, Wilson, who now has surprisingly changed and became a nicer person, treats his wounds. After a good nights sleep, and a good meal Henry fights bravely in all the battles impressing his lieutenant and a colonel. His dilemma slowly vanishes because of the valiant effort displayed by Henry leaving not a coward, but a hero; By this struggle he had overcome obstacles that he admitted to be mountains. They had fallen like paper peaks, and he was now what he called a hero (95).

The novel takes a dramatic turn in the last couple of pages. Henry finally realizes what he did to the Tattered Soldier, He saw his vivid error, and he was afraid that it would stand before him all his life (130). He causes himself much chagrin over this, but it is a nominal task to overcome it, which he does in a matter of minutes. He just simply puts it out of his mind. How one might ask? It is hard to picture, since the Tattered Soldier was near death himself, An I must say I aint enjoying any great health mself these days (57). Henry could bring an early death to the Tattered Soldier, that little notion could haunt a person for eternity.

During war, one is not usually in the right state of mind. His/her actions are for one purpose only, to survive. That does not fall under any stage since one would gain nothing. They do not care if society accepts them, or use morals in their decisions. A person will do whatever he has to, to survive.

This timeless classic shows that in war, a persons action do not belong to them. It is all the training and surrounding environment which is displayed. This theory is relevant to Henry; his deserting his regiment could be due to the lack of training he might have received since he was in the Reserves. Now, Henry is prepared to face any challenges of life, since he faced the biggest challenge of all, death, He had been to touch the great death, and found that, after all, it was but the great death (130).