With Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, the concept of the heroic figure begins to shift farther away from clearly defined characteristics. The idea of a single individual rising up to heroically conquer in any situation lost favor with the changing views of the nineteenth century leading Crane to address as a theme "the quandary of heroism in an unheroic age" (Beaver 67) by creating in Henry Fleming a figure both heroic and non-heroic all in one. His exploration of the concepts of courage and cowardice shows them to be opposite sides of the same coin as evidenced in the heroic figure.
Through Henry's progression in thoughts, Crane explores this changing view of the hero. As the book opens, "the youth [Henry] had believed that he must be a hero" (Crane 50), as he set out as a newly enlisted man. Awaiting the call of his first battle, Henry reflected that "[s]ometimes he inclined to believing them all heroes" (Crane 75) based simply on their role as soldiers. However, when confronted with the reality of battle, Henry soon noticed that "[t]here was a singular absence of heroic poses" (Crane 86). Trying to cope with his own inadequacy, Henry finds himself always lacking in comparison with those around him. As they marched along he thought that heroes "could find excuses . . . They could retire with perfect self-respect and make excuses to the stars" (Crane 123). Marching among those heroes wounded in battle, "they rendered it almost impossible for him to see himself in a heroic light" (Crane 125). Henry began to despair "that he should ever become a hero" (Crane 126). However, through a new confrontation in battle, Henry found himself funct...
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...a of his "red badge" of cowardice known only to him, he earned his "red badge of courage." However, the necessity of a turn in character to create the final hero is still evidenced. By showing the close relationship between the negative and positive aspects of a single characteristic--in this case confronting battle with either courage or cowardice--Crane opens the door for an infinite understanding of what makes a hero by demonstrating that perfection is not a necessary characteristic.
Beaver, Harold. "Stephen Crane: The Hero as Victim." Modern Critical Interpretations: Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage. Ed. Harold Bloom. NY: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987. 65-74.
Crane, Stephen. The Red Badge of Courage. Intro. Pascal Covici, Jr. NY: Penguin Books, 1985.
Credy, Edwin H. Stephen Crane. Rev. Ed. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1980.
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