The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane is an anti-war novel. The novel, based on the Chancellorsville battles, the American Civil War is a classic novel from seventeen century. Henry Fleming, the main character, is a young man who is enlists into the army. He is an immature man who has a big dream of war. His mother, as a foreshadower who knows his background, foretells his future as a soldier in the war. With discourages from his mother, Henry joins the army. He doesn’t know himself or the reality of war searches for his true identity. Taking part of the battles results he to realize the reality of war yet discover and understand himself. The war changes him in a way that nothing can.
The author passes the story mainly through Henry’s eyes. The conflict that he has with his mother develops the conflict of war and inside Henry. Interior monologue shows his process of thinking and his thoughts on war and others. Solitude plays the major roles in Henry’s life. Despite that, fear and courage, large ideas in the story, are the main affects that develop Henry. The story, together, demonstrates the consequences of war on people especially on young man as Henry. War, whether like it or not, destroy and takes away people’s life.
“Literature aptly serves the need to get inside someone else’s head.” The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane exposes the reality of war, and the consequences that war have on people the eyes of the main character, Henry Fleming. The author reveals this through both internal and external conflicts with his mother. The interior monologue and viewpoint from third-person dialogue develops the conflicts as well as the plot. Fear, courage, and the searching of himself plays a significant role as the novel is largely through his eyes.
Courage disturbs Henry as he waits to be enlisted. “He dreamed of battle all his life vague and bloody conflicts that had thrilled himâ€¦In vision he had seen himself in many struggles.”(4) He has a romantic view toward war, that it is something to be proud of, and that have to pass trough. Henry, as a soldier, struggles to be part of the battles in a heroic way like ‘courageous man’ in the battle field. The courage is an inspiration for Henry to fight in the war, which transformed to the ‘red badge of courage,’ as he sees his old Friend, Jim, from another regiment, wounded and soaks with blood like other men in the regiment.”(81) The ‘badge’ of courage of others encourages him to face his fear and find his courage to fight in the war. The ‘red badge’ or the wound is a symbol of courage in Henry’s eyes.
Fear starts to develop as Henry joins the regiment. When he sees his comrades full of courage and excited about war, he starts to question himself whether he could be like them. As he is engage to his duty in the battlefield, he then “run away like blind man,”(63) because of his fear of death. Henry sees Jim die and realizes the reality of war, “a devotee of a mad religion, blood-sucking, muscle wrenching, bone crunchingâ€¦”(86). The fear from the reality of war is the struggle that he has with himself to be part of the war, and involve in the battlefield or not.
The plot of this novel breaks the stereotype of the romance of heroes at war. Henry doesn’t know what it takes to fight, and the author didn’t portray him as a hero but a young man who doesn’t know himself. The flashback in the beginning of Henry enlists in the Union army was the beginning of both internal and external conflict with his mother. The wants of Henry to be a hero, with disapprovement from all sides including his inner feeling is an emotional conflict. Henry implies his dishonesty as he becomes part of the battle and says, “I got shot. In th’ head. I never see sech fightin’.”(115) He fights and takes up the Union flag, and faces his fear as he “â€¦centeredâ€¦gazed of his soul upon that other flagâ€¦would be high pride.”(194) Henry overcomes his cowardice and fear, becoming a real soldier. In his mind, “he saw his vivid errorsâ€¦,”(204) and the transformation that he had since the war.
Henry, a dynamic character faced internal conflicts of struggling between self-preservation and finding his courage throughout the novel. The author intention is to demonstrate the transformation that Henry has had, in order to be part of the regiment and the war through fear, courage, bravery, and shame. He is struggling to understand and find himself along with his courage as he “had been thought that a man becomes another thing in the battle. He saw his salvation in such a change.”(36) Through the process, it makes him realize the dream he had of war; it’s not going to happen like the way he imagine because this is a realistic war where injury is real, death is real, and one win one lose is real. As he becomes part of the battle, his “mind was undergoing a subtle changeâ€¦his brain emerged from clogged clouds, at least he was enabled to move closely comprehend himself and circumstances.”(201) Henry always questions himself such as is he doing the right thing, is he making a good decision, and is others a brave, courageous soldier while he is not throughout the novel. The thoughts and feeling that make Henry question himself develops internal conflicts (against himself). He is not confident with his unsettled mind. He doesn’t really want to kill others, but he promise to save himself to be useful to the army, the ‘Blue demonstration.’ Ironically, “he presently wrapped his heart in the cloak of his pride and kept the flag erect”(168-169) as preserve dignity and honor at great risk of well-being. The effects of war changed him mentally and physically as Henry starts to settle his mind. It causes him to lose identity and distinctiveness of his own to participate in war. Henry changes into a ‘mature’ man who understands the world.
Isolation is what Henry wants to depart from. He is struggling to be as apart as possible from ‘mental outcast’ and leave his solitude, which ideally happens to him between him and his mother, and as a soldier in the regiment. Before Henry goes to enlist, “his mother had discouraged himâ€¦.upon the quality of his war ardor and patriotism,”(5) which foreshadows his experience later on, but he was lost in propaganda of war and stories of victories in a “prolonged ecstasy if excitement.”(6) His mother says that as she knows Henry long enough to know his mind and reactions. She plays an important role of foreshadower/fortune teller of Henry’s future in the story. This creates a division between Henry and his mother due to different opinion about war, and makes Henry seems stubborn with his prideful war.
Henry desires to be part of the regiment and “discovered another who suspected himself. A sympathetic comparison of mental notes would have been a joy to him.”(17) He chooses to move to his tent to find his solitude. It makes him an outcast from the regiment. Henry has internal conflicts of fear and courage within him. It makes him want to isolate himself in order to rationalize his feeling and thoughts. The internal conflict of his undetermined thoughts makes him automatically isolate himself from the rest of the regiment. This leads to isolation whether he likes it or not. It affects the rest of the time he spent in the battle front and his choice of sticking with the regiment or not.
The military itself does have a conflict that Henry spontaneously gets involve since he joins the force to become a soldier. The army has simply been waiting for engagement with rumors of “we’re goin’ t’ move t’morrah.”(2) It causes of the fight between the tall and the loud soldier. Ironically, the army who is supposes to fight with the enemy fights among themselves though they are one as the army refers themselves as. The author creates this conflict in order to verify the realistic world and to emphasize that war is red, and it is history.
In the novel, Henry thoughts always appear out before and after his actions. His monologue always concern about his fear and will he be courageous at different battles in the war. The main monologue in the beginning the narrator always refers to as “…feared that all of the untried men possessed a great and correct confidence,”(15) which is what he tries to overcome. He convinces himself to reduce some guilt when he sees the wounded regiment of his friend, Jim. This is ironic to Henry since he wants to be a hero but he is afraid of death, in which he changed his wills of being wounded to be a hero. Henry thinks of the wound as “a red badge of courage,”(81) and it is what stirred him to face his fear and cowardice to find his courage.
The reality of war and its consequences is demonstrated through the reproductions of dynamic and sensible soldiers in the battles. The author, who is believed to be anti-war, sticks the harsh, bloody image of war to the readers. Crane’s definition of war is “â€¦the red animal, war, the blood-swollen godâ€¦”(105). War is something more than groups of people involves in it. There are no controls, and it outstrips people. War doesn’t make any good, except destroy and takes away people’s life yet leaves scars in people and the world.