Stephen Crane's Red Badge of Courage as Bildungsroman

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Stephen Crane's Red Badge of Courage as Bildungsroman

In the Red Badge of Courage, by Stephen Crane, the main character Henry Fleming joins the army as a young fledging and ultimately matures to a courageous soldier ready for battle. The Red Badge of Courage is considered a Bildungsroman since the reader traces Henry’s development morally, psychologically, and intellectually. Henry progresses from a feared youth who in the course of a couple of days, in the line of fire, has crossed the threshold to manhood.

Henry Fleming’s growth is demonstrated after the first battle when he becomes mentally stronger and surmounts his fear of being a coward. Henry Fleming is a romantic dreamer, inspired by visions of a chivalric type of warfare in which he becomes a mighty hero (Solomon). He reads of “marches, sieges, conflicts, and longed to see it all. (Crane, 4)” He never knows where he is going or what is expected of him until the order comes. As a “fresh fish” (Crane, 9), Henry must prove to the veterans and himself that he is not a coward although he is not sure how he will react in real combat. Henry does not have much self-confidence in himself and contains many of his fears in terror of being ridiculed. His insecurity causes him to be in the state of mental agony until he can prove that he is not a coward in the heat of the battlefield. In the first battle, Henry believes he has passed his test and is in an ecstasy of self-satisfaction. “So it was all over at last! The supreme trial had been passed. The red, formidable difficulties of war had been vanquished. (Crane, 45).” His delight with his actions can be seen when he begins to chat with his companions. There was a little flower of confidence growing within ...

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... the enormous obstacles he encounters. He finally gains the experiences necessary to cope with life and thus achieves as well a store of inner strength and conviction. He acquires a symbol of group experience and acceptance (the red badge), he is guided by a supernatural mentor (the cheery soldier) through a night journey to reunion with his fellows; and in the next day’s engagement he helps gain a symbolic token of passage into manhood (the enemy’s flag) (Pizer). This is the course of Henry Fleming’s metamorphosis from a fledging just learning how to fly with developing wings to a hawk who can soar up high confidently with courage.

Works Cited:

Crane, Stephen. The Red Badge of Courage: An Episode of the American Civil War. 1895. Charlottesville: UP of Virginia, 1975

Solomon, Nicola. "Sequel Opportunities." New Law Journal 144.6641 (25 Mar. 1994):
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