The Red Badge of Courage, by Steven Crane, has been proclaimed one of thegreatest war novels of all time. It is a story that realistically depicts theAmerican Civil War through the eyes of Henry Fleming, an ordinary farm boy whodecides to become a soldier. Henry, who is fighting for the Union, is verydetermined to become a hero, and the story depicts Henrys voyage from being ayoung coward, to a brave man. This voyage is the classic trip from innocence toexperience. The story starts out with a heated debate between the soldiers. Oneboy had heard a rumor that the regiment would be moving on to fight a battle thenext day. Some of the soldiers agree with this boy, while others think thattheir regiment will never partake in a real battle. While watching thisargument, Henry, the protagonist, decides that he would rather go lay down andthink rather then take part in the heated argument between the soldiers. Henry,a simple farm boy, is rather excited when he hears the rumor that they will befighting soon. It had always been a dream of his to fight in a war, and become ahero, and now his dream was coming true. Henry begins to think about what lifewas like before he entered the army, and remembers the stories of war he hasheard from old veterans. This flashback is very effective in showing how hisprevious experiences have affected his thoughts on war now. It is blatantlyobvious that he is afraid that he will not be able to withstand the pressures ofa battle. He keeps telling himself that if he wants to become a hero, he can notrun away. He must stick out the battle with the rest of his comrades. Whilemarching along, Henry sees the first corpse he has ever seen. He shows pity forthe man, because the dead man had died in such poor conditions. The souls of hisshoes were worn bare. When Henry sees the corpse, he begins to wonder if hisgenerals actually know what they are doing. He thinks that the generals areleading him right into a trap, right into the middle of the rebels. Henry dealswith his fear of battle by acting arrogant. He acts as if he has been in athousand battles, and complains about the walking, even though the reader knowsthat he would rather be walking forever then go to battle at this point in time.
It shows one of Henrys defense mechanisms, how he uses his arrogance to hidehis innocence. Regiment 304 moves on to battle the next day. Henry becomes veryscared, but is too proud to talk to any of the others soldiers about his fears.
All the soldiers are very anxious to fight in the war, and Tom and Henry talkabout how they are not going to run away from war, and how they want to becomebig time war heroes. This is ironic, because in the end of the book their wishescome true. When the battle starts, all the soldiers get very anxious andnervous. Tom and Henry dont turn out to be as brave as they think that theycould be. While hiding, Tom finds Henry, and gives him a manila envelope ofletters for his family. Tom believes that this will be his first and his lastbattle. Henry ends up fulfilling his worst nightmare. Instead of sticking outthe battle with the rest of his regiment, he hides behind some brush in order tospare himself from dying. He listens in on the battle, and to much of hissurprise, he hears cheering from whats left of his regiment. He then takesoff into the woods in anger. While running through the woods his consciencebegins to speak to him. His conscience calls him a coward, and a deserter. Outof guilt, Henry runs back to the battle site, and meets again with his regiment.
These actions showed Henrys maturity, and desire to be a war hero. When Henrymeets up his regiment and older tattered man begins to have a discussion withhim. The old man asks Henry “where yeh hit, ol boy?” meaning, where hegot shot. With massive feelings of guilt, Henry shrugs away from the man andruns back into the woods. From behind a tree, he looks at all the woundedsoldiers. “At times he regarded the wounded soldiers in an envious way. Heconceived persons with torn bodies to be particularly happy. He wished that he,too had a wound, a red badge of courage” This shows Henrys desire to be awounded war hero. He does not want to be set apart from the other boys as acoward. As soon as the old soldier passed him, he went back to the lines andcontinued on with the boys. He starts walking next to Jim Conklin, a soldierthat he knew pretty well. They are talking, when all of a sudden Jim runs away.
He falls onto the ground and dies. This death has a very big affect on Henry.
Jim was his first friend to be killed in battle. He feels guilty that Jim wasput through so much pain, and he just ran away, like a coward. After spendingthe night sleeping near Jims corpse, Henry woke up and was ready to marchagain. He meets up with another tattered soldier, who is crazy and dying. Henrygets very angry at the mad for talking to him, and runs away, swearing that theman knows his secret. He refuses to go back to the regiment, because he thinksthat everyone will regard him as a coward. All of a sudden, Henry sees thesoldiers frantically running. One grabs him, and Henry asks him why they arerunning so frantically. The only response he gets is a whack in the head withthe soldiers gun. A few moments later, when Henry is able to get up, hebegins to march with passer by soldiers. A soldier walking next to him noticesthe wound on his head, and automatically assumes it to be a bullet wound. Thekind-hearted soldier leads Henry back to his regiment. The first person Henrysees when he gets to the group is his friend Tom. In order to save face, Henrymakes up a big story about how he got shot in the head, and then got separatedfrom the regiment. Tom takes great care of Henry, cleans him up and makes surethat he gets enough food, and a good nights sleep. After being pampered byTom, Henry realizes that this is not the way to becoming a hero. In order tobecome a hero, he must fight in battles, and get a real red badge of courage,not just a knock in the head. He returns the envelope of letters to Tom. Thisscene marks a dramatic change in character for both of the boys. It shows theirmovement from innocence to experience. From then on, the two men walk side byside while marching. They showed their courage often in tough situations. Henrysuspected that his generals were leading them right into trouble, and he getsvery angry about that fact. Henry tells Tom about his speculations, but Tom willnot believe him. During the next battle, Henry shows his courage by being thefirst and the fastest soldier to fire. After the victorious battle, Henry andTom over hear a conversation between generals and captains, and they find outthat the next battle they are going to be fighting is going to be very tough,and the general is looking for spar regiment.. The leader feels that there is noway Regiment 304 will survive the battle, and calls the soldiers muledrivers, thinking that they are slow, and rather stupid. When Henry and Tomhear this, they are enraged. They are determined to fight as hard as the can,with all their heart and souls. Henry and Tom prove themselves well in thebattle. They steal the confederate flag, and are both brave enough to go out onthe field with out weapons. After the regiment retreats, the general recognizesboth soldiers as extremely brave, and comment that they are fit to be generalsthemselves. This final action is what finalizes the movement from innocence toexperience for Henry and Tom. They went into the war as little boys, and nowthey are moving on as men. They have both earned their red badges of courage, aswell as the hero status they had dreamed of obtaining forever.