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The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane traces the effects of war on a Union soldier, Henry Fleming, from his dreams of soldiering to his actual enlistment. The novel also takes one through several battles of the Civil War. Henry Fleming was not happy with his boring life on the farm. He wants to become a hero in war and have girls loving him for his glorious achievements in battle. He would also like to prove that he is a man and can take care of himself.
Henry knows his mother would not like to see him go to war, but it is his decision to make. He dreams of the existing battles of war and the thrill of fighting glorious battles. He does not want to stay on the farm with nothing to do, so he makes the final decision to enlist. After enlisting he finds himself just sitting around with nothing to do. Henry manages to make friends with two other soldiers, John Wilson and Jim Conklin. Wilson is as exited about going to war as Henry, while Jim is confident about the success of the new regiment.
Henry starts to realize after a few days of marching, that their regiment is just wandering aimlessly, going in circles, like a vast blue demonstration. They kept marching on without purpose, direction, or fighting. "The cold passed reluctantly from earth, and retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. As the landscape changed from brown to green, the army awakened, and began to tremble with eagerness at the noise of rumors." Crane uses imagery in this passage of spring at the beginning of the novel to show that the army is slowly coming together. Wartime activities are resuming after its long winter rest, just as nature is awakened to a new life after its long winter dormancy. Through time Henry started to think about the battles in a different way, a more close and experienced way. He starts to become afraid that he might run from battle when duty calls. Henry felt like a servant, doing whatever his superiors told him.
When the regiment finally discovers a battle-taking place, Jim gives Henry a little packet in a yellow envelope, telling Henry that this will be his first and last battle.
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The same time Henry met Jim, he also met a tattered man. In the next charge, Henry and the tattered man see Jim die a slow, and painful death. After Jim's death, and a little talking, Henry, though not realizing it, leaves the tattered man alone on the battlefield, hurting inside, and dangerous to himself. In the charge ahead, Henry starts asking the soldiers why they are running. He grabbed a comrade by the arm and asked the man "why- why" not letting go of the mans arm, so the man hit Henry over the head with the butt of his rifle, giving Henry his first red badge of courage. Dazed, Henry stumbles around the battlefield struggling to stay on his feet, until a man comes around and helps Henry to get back to his regiment. "The sun, suddenly apparent, blazed among the trees. The insects were making rhythmical noises. They seem to be grinding their teeth in unison. A woodpecker stuck his impudent head around the side of a tree. A bird flew on light-hearted wing. Off was the rumble of death. It seemed now that nature had no ears." This image of the forest outside the battlefield is a symbol. Crane uses this to show the insignificance of the war in general workings of nature and the universe. He achieves this by presenting Henry's astonishment at the fact that nature goes on as usual, unaware of the bloody battle field near by. At his regiment he confronts Wilson and has his wound on his head attended to. After a short rest he again gets back into battle.
After the regiment lost that battle, the generals have the regiment marching again. Henry feels that the generals were a lot of "lunkheads," for making them retreat instead of confronting the enemy. Henry begins to feel that, he and Wilson, are going to die, but they go to battle anyway. In battle, Henry began to fume with rage and exhaustion. He has a wild hate for the relentless people. He is not going to be badgered of his life, like a mouse chased by a cat. He feels that he and his companions are being taunted and derided from sincere convictions, that they are poor and puny. In yet another battle, when Henry and Wilson get a chance to carry their flag, they fight over who will retain the flag. Wilson receives the regiment flag, though later in battle Henry manages to obtain the rebel flag, and from their, runs to the front of the line with the Lieutenant, leading the way.
In battle he fought like a "Major General." Though he did regret leaving the tattered man alone on the battlefield, he has grown-up, and is no longer afraid of dying.