In The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane explores the theme of courage and heroism in depth. He develops these themes through the main character, Henry Fleming. Henry is a naïve young man faced with the harsh realities of war, in this book, some argue that Henry is transformed into a heroic "quiet manhood" while others see Henry as the same young man who ran from battle in the beginning of the book. I think Henry doesn't change, his heroic status acquired at the end of the book isn't truly him, instead he merely is motivated by fear of dying and being rejected by his fellow soldiers.
At the beginning of the novel Henry is disappointed of war; he had far greater expectations of war. He wants one thing out of this experience, Glory, and he would go to any extreme to fulfill it. In battle Henry acts impulsively and is easily manipulated, he flees from battle at the sight of others running. When he realizes his cowardice he rationalizes without end to why he ran. He justifies that nature also flees at the sight of fear when he scares a squirrel to runoff. Henry acts shallow and vain when he manipulates his friend, Wilson; he uses the letters Wilson gave him as leverage if Wilson finds out Henry's "crimes". His pride is restored when he finds out that he doesn't get caught. He is constantly comparing himself to others, and doesn't judge himself by the same standards as he does others. I think Henry is envious of his friends. The only thing the tattered man wanted is warm pea soup and a warm bed, but he wants to survive to be there for his children. I think Henry admires the tattered man's selflessness and courage, he never really complained abo...
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...ck at his General for calling them mule drivers by dying in battle. In reality Henry was an insignificant soldier and the General would never care whether he died in battle or not. To me, a hero doesn't try to hide behind his insecurities, like Henry did, he faces them.
In conclusion, I think Henry was not a hero in this novel, in fact I thought he acted more like a coward. Though during brief periods of time Henry physically acted heroically, his moral character was weak, trying to cover up his psychological wounds with self-justification and delusion. I think towards the end of the novel Henry abandons the notion of becoming a hero, mostly because it is unrealistic. Instead, he settles with a more humble title of being a man.
Crane, Stephen. The Red Badge of Courage. Logan, IA: Perfection Learning Corporation, 1979.
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