War forces young soldiers to grow up quickly. In Stephen Crane’s Civil War novel, The Red Badge of Courage, Henry Fleming is no exception. He is faced with the hard reality of war and this forces him to readjust his romantic beliefs about war. Through the novel, the reader can trace the growth and development of Henry through these four stages: (1) romanticizing war and the heroic role each soldier plays, (2) facing the realities of war, (3) lying to himself to maintain his self-importance, and (4) realistic awareness of his abilities and place in life. Through Henry’s experiences in his path to self-discovery, he is strongly affected by events that help shape his ideology of war, death, courage, and manhood. The romantic ideologies will be replaced with a more realistic representation.
When Henry decides to go off to war, he has a romantic image of what the war will be like. He makes references to the great battles of the Greeks, and hopes that his own battles will be as heroic. Henry had “long despaired of witnessing a Greek-like struggle” (Crane, 3). His motivation to fight comes from his will to become a hero. He believes that he will do great things on the battlefield because that is his destiny, and hopes to gain recognition for his achievements. When he tells his mother that he will be going to war, she doubts his motivation and encourages him to keep clean socks (Crane,5)! Clearly, she was treating him like a child, not a man. She is a reminder that Henry begins his journey to war as a youth trying to find himself.
Henry begins to question his courage at the time he finds out that his regiment will commence with the drills and move in to attack the enemy. Ho...
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... nonassertive but of sturdy and strong blood” (Crane, 128). He had matured, yet the forces that controlled him were still beyond his control. He felt the need to be socially accepted and stay in control of how others perceived him.
Through the four stages of growth and development that Henry overcame, the glorious dreams that he once had were replaced by the more realistic horrors of war. Crane represents courage as an instinct, similar to cowardice. Only when instinct dictates courage, one can be heroic. Along Henry’s struggle to become self-aware, he has discovered new ideologies about war, death, courage, and manhood. He has a realistic image of war, an indifference to death, an instinctive courage, and a quiet manhood.
Crane, Stephen. The Red Badge of Courage. New York, New York: Signet Classic from Penguin Putnam Inc., 1997.
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