Throughout the novel The Red Badge of Courage, Henry Fleming is in a constant struggle between his illusions of war and reality. When Henry first decides to enlist their is a perception of war that he has in his mind; he later finds out that war is not as glorious and courageous as his mind had perceived. As the novel progresses Henry comes to realize that his idealized notions of war and death, for his country, were all illusions he was creating for himself.
Being a young man from a small house in New York, all that Henry Fleming new about war is what he imagined it to be in his head. He perceived war to be a great struggle between two opposing forces fighting for their own beliefs(Ch.1 ). He believed that he would make a difference in battle and would have a direct impact on the outcome of battle. When Henry arrives for his duty in the military he begins to second guess himself. Henry begins to think that he will not fight but he will run from battle like a coward. In Chapter Three Henry is tested in battle for the first time and stays and fights
like a man should. This is the first time that Henry sees a realistic viewpoint of war. Henry begins to become angered for his government sending him on this deathmarch, then he realizes that he had enlisted voluntarily. Henry still had an idealistic thought of war and told himself that “a man became another thing in battle.”(Ch. 3) This fight proved to Henry that in battle he will stay and fight like a man. But, Henry sees soldiers retreating
and thinks to himself that maybe he has not seen the actual enemy yet. He believes that maybe the first fight was just a prelude to the one that lies ahead, and is once again scared that he will run from battle when his regiment needs him the most.
Henry is very pleased with himself that he had stood up to battle like a man and had not run like a coward. But, when Henry starts to see troops running away he becomes panicked and begins to think they are leaving him to fight the battle alone. This causes Henry to start running disillusioned and without direction. At this point Henry still has feels that war is a great heroic epic and is in great shame that he had run from battle so cowardly. Henry begins to rationalize his decision by throwing a pine cone at a squirrel in the forest; the squirrel runs away. Henry views this as an instinct for preservation, “all living things try to preserve themselves from harm by running away from danger.” Soon after Henry finds a group of men marching and this is when he feels the most shame throughout the novel. Henry finds out that these men have been wounded and believes that they are all looking at him. He yearns for his own red badge of courage so that he can feel heroic like these men before him feel. He cannot deal with this shame so he
returns to wandering in the forest again. He feels that his only way out was for his army to lose the battle so they would all share in the great shame he had felt.He stays near the battle. When Henry is struck in the by his own comrades and receives his red badge of courage, he feels that the shame has been lifted off of his shoulders and he could once again stand tall for himself. Henry notices how people react to his wound on his head; he
notices Wilson’s change of attitude and even his thoughtfulness of letting Henry sleep in his bed. This is the point in the novel in which Henry is reborn due to his wound; ironically one of his own fellow soldiers gave it to him.
Henry attitude toward the romantic and heroic aspects of war have changed dramatically throughout the novel. Henry is now fighting bravely and courageously. His ego is shot down quite a bit by a soldier sarcastically asking him “Mebbe yeh think yeh fit th’ hull battle yestirday.” At this point Henry realizes that nobody knows where they are going or why they are going their. He realizes that he is an insignificant part of a vast sea of soldiers and this removes all the ideas of heroic battles of war in Henry’s mind. Bravery
and heroism are measured different in all peoples minds. In the minds of the leaders it is determined by the amount of land one controls in battle; in the eyes of the soldiers bravery is how hard and ferociously they fought. Henry realizes that men only do what they have to in a situation to survive and in war men are not thinking consciously enough to make decisions of bravery. After the charge of the enemy Henry realized that he was an insignificant part of the battle. He realizes that little has changed after the battle and it had
little purpose. All that had changed was Henry and he was just happy to be alive.
Throughout this novel Crane puts Henry in situations which will test his contrast his illusions of war with the reality of battle. Henry evolves as a man throughout the story in the sense that in the beginning of the novel he believed in great wars, which were fought for a common goal. These wars were fought by courageous men who would die for their beliefs. Then Henry realizes that there is no such thing as bravery in war. Men only do what they have to, to survive. Henry’s romantic notions of war have not played out, yet he found out what true war was really about.