“No but a member. He felt that
“No man has ever risen to the real stature of spiritual manhood until he has found that it is finer to serve somebody else than it is to serve himself.” “The Red Badge of Courage” by author Stephen Crane is one of the first modern American novels which takes place during the American Civil War where the episodic plot revolves around a young Union soldier’s anxiety as he confronts his first battle and explores larger themes of fear and bravery, patriotism, brotherhood, and manhood. The main theme of the novel deals with Henry Fleming’s attempt to prove himself a worthy soldier by earning his “red badge of courage”. The first twelve chapters, until he receives his accidental wound, expose his cowardice. The following chapters detail his growth and apparently resulting heroism. Throughout the course of the Red Badge of Courage, Henry’s character develop from “the youth” to “the man” through his ability to admit his mistakes and seek redemption for his earlier actions, to acknowledge his own cowardice and selfishness, and to see the things he would have done differently.
This gradual transformation of Henry from youth into adulthood can be seen through the events where he stands tall and fights courageously against the enemy in his first battle, encourages his regiment to defeat the Confederates without even caring about his life, and feels guilty for all his bad and selfish deeds and attempts to redeem for all those shameful actions he did. The idea that Henry is beginning to transition is clearly shown in Chapter 5 of the novel where Henry’s individuality and anxieties disappear into the “labor” of war. He stands up in battle, fights, and helps the regiment repel the army. At the beginning of the novel, Henry enlists with the Union Army in the hopes of fulfilling his dreams of glory. Shortly after enlisting, the reality of his decision sets in.
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He experiences tedious waiting, not immediate glory. The more he waits for battle, the more doubt and fear creep into his mind. However, when he finally engages in his first battle, he becomes a member of a fighting team, and he shows great strength and resolve as he loads, fires, and reloads his rifle — even while others are being wounded and killed around him. This example is strongly supported by the evidence when Crane describes Henry having the will to not take a flight from the battlefield, “He Henry became not a man but a member. He felt that something of which he was a part- a regiment, an army, a cause, or a country— was in a crisis. He was welded into a common personality which was dominated by a single desire.
“(Pg. 38) This quote shows that Henry is beginning to transition into “adulthood” through his ability to acknowledge his cowardice and selfishness because Henry seems to totally forget the fears that have almost overwhelmed him up to this point. He transforms from a fearful, doubtful, questioning recruit to a confident, aggressive, regimental soldier in only one battle.
He feels the “brotherhood” of fighting along with his comrades: he loses his sense of self- absorption and becomes one with the unit— all working together for a single cause— to hold the line and defeat their enemy. To this point, Henry has been very focused on himself. This ability to get beyond himself and to see the larger issues shows a developing maturity on Henry— something that is not seen before in him. The event that presents the evolution of Henry’s character is in Chapter 20 where when the regiment is in serious disarray, Henry joins forces with his lieutenant to try to keep the men focused on their retreat toward friendly lines. However, after his first battle, when the Confederate troops return to charge again, Henry is mentally unprepared to match the Confederate troops’ determination. Seeing some Union soldiers flee the skirmish, Henry loses his sense of being part of a fighting machine.
Overwhelmed, he bolts from the battlefield in terror. Henry tries to rationalize his actions convincing himself he is smarter than the other men by trying to save himself. Though he isn’t ready to accept his cowardice and self absorption yet, from the second half of the novel Henry is gradually developing and evolving his character into “manhood” when Crane says, “He Henry harangued his fellows, pushing against their chests with his free hand… Between him and the lieutenant… there was felt a subtle fellowship and equality. They supported each other in all manner of hoarse, howling protests.”(Pg. 127) Henry is becoming truly battle-tested: his fighting has revealed the reality of war, replacing his romantic ideas from classic literature.
As Henry is the flag bearer of his regiment, he leads the charge all by himself. Not only does he not run from combat, but also he digs in to fight the Confederate troops, considering retreat to be “a march of shame”. Thus, Henry has moved from giving into his fear and running from a fight to finding his courage and showing leadership skills. Henry, the youth, is shown to evolve through this example because he now reaches a point in which he opts to not budge from his position, no matter what. He is ready to die with pride and honor rather than running away from the battle and losing all the traits of a heroic soldier he had always romanticized of. The final example displays the final transformation of Henry from “the youth” to “the man” in the final chapter where Henry is proud of his actions in battle because it was witnessed by other men, but he has remorse over his actions of the previous day, especially toward the tattered soldier.
After running away from the first battle, when Henry sees a tattered soldier is about to die, instead of taking care of the tattered soldier, Henry abandons him in a field. His callous selfishness is sparked when the tattered soldier has asked where Henry is wounded. Thus, Henry is still agonizing over his lack of courage in his second battle. His agony now is more about whether other soldiers will realize he fled and the fact that he doesn’t have a “red badge of courage” to prove his bravery. Also, he misses many opportunities at several times in the novel to be realistic and honest with his comrades and most importantly, himself and to speak out the truth that he ran from the battle because he was taken away by the fear of inevitable death.
Moreover, he continues to rationalize his flight, and “he felt his self-respect growing strong within him.” In Chapter 24, Crane says, “He Henry began to study his deeds, his failures… Yet gradually he mustered force to put the sin at a distance… he could look back upon the brass and bombast of his earlier gospels and see them truly… He felt a quiet manhood, non-assertive but of sturdy and strong blood. He had been to touch the great death, and found that, after all, it was but the great death and was for others. He was a man.” (Pg.
150-154) Here, Henry reflects on his past few days, his heroism and what he has done, how far he has come, the “thrills of joy”, and also… his shame— his missed opportunities, the tattered man he left behind alone to die, and the tall soldier, Jim Conklin. In his reflection, he thinks about the tattered man, the tall soldier, and this causes him shame, and guilt. Given his current stage in his life, he realizes he should have been able to help them vs. not just be fearful about people looking down on him. Furthermore,p as Henry considers his actions in the war, he no longer appreciates the bragging way he used to act. He also recognizes leaving the tattered soldier to die alone was a grave error, but one he needs to leave in the past. Gaining maturity and becoming a man involves being “of sturdy and strong blood”– being steady of mind and spirit rather than flighty.
By shifting his mindset in this way, Henry becomes a man, allowing the scars of his earlier actions to fade “as flowers” and moving from weapons to “prospects of clover tranquility.” Thus, this event clearly shows the final transformation of Henry from “the youth” to “the man” with the support of the quote because he is now able to acknowledge his cowardice, self-absorption, guilt, and embarrassment, to admit his mistakes and also look for a way to redeem those mistakes, and he is trying to view the things he would have done differently in a way that would have not developed guilt and shame in himself for his immature actions and behavior throughout the novel. The Red Badge of Courage examines numerous themes in the course of the novel through the main character, Henry, but the clearest example is the transition to manhood. Henry’s transition into manhood comes with his ability to admit his mistakes, to acknowledge his cowardice and selfishness, and to see the things he would have done differently. The idea that Henry “the youth” had transformed into “the man” are displayed by the events where he stands tall and fights courageously against the enemy in his first battle, encourages his regiment to defeat the Confederates without even caring about his life, and feels guilty for all his bad and selfish deeds and attempts to redeem for all those shameful actions he did.
Life is full of transitions, and the transition to adulthood is a critical stage of human development during which young people leave childhood behind and take on new roles and responsibilities. It is a period of social, psychological, economic, and biological transitions, and for many young people it involves demanding emotional challenges and important choices. To a large degree, the nature and quality of young people’s future lives depend on how successfully they negotiate through this critical period.
Based on the changes of the “Youth,” the novel could imply to the readers that in order to be an adult, you should be able to take responsibility for your own actions and behavior, you should not be self-centered considering humanity, you should admit your errors and figure out a way to resolve whatever conflict it has created, and most importantly, you should be courageous enough to stand for yourself and others as well. Thus, the universal truth represented by the theme of maturity in the novel is that people grow, change, and develop through experiences, especially ones that test them, through interactions with others, and through contemplation of their words, emotions, and actions.