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Red Badge of Courage Essay

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Individual people are defined by the character traits they possess, and how these traits are present in their lives. Such traits assist all people in functioning physically, mentally and socially. However, these traits also determine how an individual reacts to a situation, particularly one of adversity. In adverse situations, these traits which have built up one’s entire life can either aid or inhibit success in the face of adversity. War situations are a primary example of character traits either helping or hurting soldiers, no matter the conflict and its details. The sheer risk of the situation in itself makes it defining for many involved, particularly those in the thick of battle. In Stephen Crane’s novel The Red Badge of Courage, the protagonist Henry Fleming shows ambition, bravery, and eventually reflection, and is shaped by his stressful and horrific life as a Union soldier in the American Civil War, which forces him to progress mentally. In The Red Badge of Courage, Henry Fleming demonstrates an ambitious nature, however, this nature is altered by his experiences on the battlefield, causing him to become a more reflective individual. For example, when describing Fleming’s eighteen year-old, untested thoughts towards the regiment’s first battle, Crane writes, “He had, of course, dreamed of battles all his life-- of vague and bloody conflicts that had thrilled him with their sweep and fire” (Crane 3). Essentially, before experiencing any combat firsthand, Fleming thinks of war as a glorious and heroic situation, and is eager to join the cause. However, later in the novel, after experiencing a few battles, Henry loses this sense of eagerness. When describing his feelings after an especially bloody battle, Crane writes, “He appeared dazed, looking as if he was questioning ever joining the great war” (Crane 56). While Henry begins the novel ambitious and eager to jump into the war scene, his mindset transforms to a more reflective one, contemplating all the horrors he has witnessed. When describing Fleming’s transformation from an ambitious eighteen year old boy to a weathered, reflective state after the war, Crane describes, “He knew then all the horrors he had let go in the sheer intensity of the moment” (Crane 87). After taking time to think about all the terrible things he witnessed, (dead friends, maimed soldiers) he can’t understand why he went to war in the first place, demonstrating the transformative effects of war and how people demonstrate traits others doubt.
Over the course of the book, Henry develops and demonstrates bravery in multiple circumstances. For example, in the beginning of the book, Crane describes the eighteen year-old, untested Henry the night before a battle by writing, “A little panic-fear grew in his mind. As his imagination went forward to a fight, he saw hideous possibilities. He contemplated the lurking menaces of the future, and failed in an effort to see himself standing stoutly in the midst of them” (Crane 8). Basically, Henry’s view of himself is that he does not belong in the ranks of these men, who he believes are superior to him in many regards. While this may just be a result of never being in a battle situation, Henry genuinely seems as though he does not want to be in this position, that he didn’t know really what he was signing up for. However, Henry develops his sense of bravery in the heat of the moment. After thinking countless times about running away in the face of danger, Henry assists a fellow soldier off the battlefield who has been brutally maimed, and continues to fight after seeing some of his fellow soldiers die. His transformation from a shy, young soldier to a brave one is nearly complete, with little progression left. In a crucial battle for positioning, Henry is described as, “Fighting with a courage rarely seen by many in the face of death” (Crane 85). This sense of courage and patriotism only continues throughout this battle, as Henry ends up capturing the Confederate Flag, effectively winning the battle for his regiment which earns him a red badge award for his courage on the battlefield. Fleming’s journey is one of extreme progression from a shy boy afraid of any warfare to an award-winning soldier, demonstrating how war forcefully matures people at an accelerated rate.
Henry Fleming develops a reflective nature over the course of The Red Badge of Courage. Before experiencing his first battle, Crane writes that Henry was, “A fellow who did not seem to concern himself with time outside of the present” (Crane 14). Henry only cared about what was going on at the moment, giving little thought to what could or had happened. However, his idea of living in the moment was altered by the experiences that come with war. During the 19th Century, warfare was particularly bloody because of the technology available at the time, and soldiers routinely witnessed many traumatic injuries on the battlefield, in contrast to today’s long distance warfare. Later in the novel, Henry seems to have been seasoned in many ways from his war experiences, finding the need to recount them numerous times, and Crane writes, “There was not a day that went by where he could not recount the events of the war. His mind became crowded with vivid images of his fellow soldiers’ deaths” (Crane 83). While many people will recount important and traumatic events, Henry did so in a way to create a peace for the fallen soldiers and in his own mind. The reader sees a continued sense of reflection, and Crane writes that, “He had began to speak to the new, younger recruits, and guide them through the life of a Union Soldier” (Crane 104). Henry has reflected on his reality enough to be comfortable, which seemed unthinkable when he first enlisted. He has become comfortable enough with the military lifestyle that he helps others cope with their issues, showing his complete, but in many ways forced development through the Army.
Stephen Crane’s novel is a crucial piece of American Literature. He forces his readers to view war in a different, less glorified way than before, and truly demonstrates how rough life is for the soldiers involved. The Red Badge of Courage shows soldiers going through grueling and horrific battle scenes, yet the soldiers continue to push through and carry on. Crane presents the idea of perseverance to the reader, which many other American writers have done. In The Red Badge of Courage perseverance takes its form on the battlefield, pushing through various losses and obstacles that are part of war. This is especially present in the Puritan writings, which mostly concern themselves with pushing through multiple disadvantages to build America. The Puritans stayed strong even when they were persecuted by the Anglican Church, remaining strong and unified to find an outlet, eventually creating America through years of hard work. In many ways, Crane’s novel depicts this. The Union soldiers are persevering through the hardships of war to not only better the country, but unify it. Overall, The Red Badge of Courage shows that when faced with a seemingly terrible situation, an individual or group should stay strong and push through until it improves.

Work Cited
Crane, Stephen. The Red Badge of Courage. New York: Scholastic Book Services, 1972, Print

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