Describe the elements of war and death in Stephen Crane’s The RedBadge of Courage. This book is divided into two parts. In the first part the maincharacters, Henry Flemings. illusions disappear when confronted by the reality ofbattle(WAH 642). During the first battle he sees vague figures before him, butthey are driven away. In the next battle he is so frightened that he runs awaybecoming one of the first heroes in literature to actually desert his fellow soldiersin the field.
While Henry is separated from his fellow soldiers, hewanders through the forest.
There he experiences the kind ofillusions that predominate in all of the writings of Crane (WAH642). First he tells himself that nature does not blame him forrunning. Next he finds himself in a part of the woods that hebelieves is religious. The insects are praying and the foresttakes the appearance of a chapel. Henry is comfortable with thisuntil he finds a dead soldier in the heart of the ‘chapel’;.
Henry sees an ant carrying a bundle across the face of the deadsoldier. That view is beautiful in the sense of conveying greatemotion through minute detail(WAH 643). As he moves back henrysees a line of injured soldiers including his friend JimConklin,who is badly wounded and another friend called ‘thetattered man’;. Trying to make up for deserting his friends, Henrytries to help Jim Conklin who is dying.After Conklin dies, thetattered man probes deeply into Henry’s conscience by repeatedlyasking ‘where ya hit’;(Bowers 132). Henry deserts the tatteredman.
When Henry stops another soldier he asks him the novels mostimportant question which is ‘why’; The soldier hits henry on thehead for starting trouble. Ironically this wound becomes Henry’s’Red Badge of Courage’;. Henry is then lead back to his regimentby a ‘cheery soldier’; who helps wandering soldiers. This leadsHenry into the second half of the book. Henry’s wanderings areover. Not until the end of the book does he ask questions. Mostof the repudiations are complete: heroes do not always act likeheroes; no one understands the purpose of life or death; naturemay be malevolent, probably no different, but is certainly notthe benevolent pantheist realm of the transcentalists, and God,is simply nowhere to be found(Weatherford 32).
In the second part of the novel Henry beco0mes a ‘wardevil’;, the hero that he wanted to be originally when anotherbattle is over, all Henry has accomplished is negated. Manycritics found the last chapter confused and muttled, Henry’sfeelings range from remorse to the ‘sin’; which is not responsibleto pride as a great hero. Finally he feels ‘the world was a worldfor him’; and he looks forward to a soft and eternal peace’;(bowers 173). The end of the book is like that of many of Cranesconclusions completely ironic. No one lives’; eternallypeacefully’; the world is not a world for Henry. As John Berrymansays, ‘Cranes sole illusion was the heroic one, and not even thatescaped his irony’;During the course of his experiences Henry learns at firsthand of the indifference of the universe, the chaos of the world,the illusory nature of religion and patriotism and heroism, buthe learns these lessons in the heat of the moment, whenrecognition is virtually forced on him(reports of war 146). Henrybecomes a representative of mankind. The individual memory becomes a metaphor for collective memory,history. Everythings a lie. Not even heroism can last.
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