Dehumanization in the Red Badge of Courage

Topics: The Red Badge of Courage, On War, War Pages: 6 (2369 words) Published: January 27, 2009
The novel The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane forcefully depicts an epic adventure though war where the men fight for their lives. These men are subject to a scene which scars and destroys the human consciousness. The result of the war and its bloody landscape causes men to lose basic human judgment and replaces it with mindless violence. All of the men are stripped of what makes them unique and are subject to a merciless war. It is clear as shown by Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage the men are dehumanized into a drone state forced upon them by war.

Evidence of the dehumanizing effects of war is revealed even in the first chapter. Henry, a universal symbol of the everyman in the novel, questions his courage to be able to go into war. Before he has even experienced war, his consciousness alerts him that his will be a demanding challenge. He makes assumptions which change throughout the novel as more and more battles occur. He admits that he believes that war only exists to make heroes, and he believes that when he comes home, he will be respected and well received. He does not take into account that he very well could not make it through the night. He admits he feels lost in this passage from chapter one:

He felt that in this crisis his laws of life were useless. Whatever he had learned of himself was here of no avail. He was an unknown quantity. He saw that he would again be obliged to experiment as he had in early youth. He must accumulate information of himself, and meanwhile he resolved to remain close upon his guard lest those qualities of which he knew nothing should everlastingly disgrace him. (Crane) Henry and his conscious are undoubtedly unprepared for the future to come. He does not have the experience to know what lies ahead and in confusion begins to lose his fundamental ideas and really questions his ethics. The loss of ethics shows the dehumanizing effects already taking place before he has even experienced war. This forced change of ideas continues throughout the novel.

In chapter five while Henry is into his first battle. He begins to realize what exactly he has gotten himself into. He takes a short look back at how he thought war was only made to make heroes and regrets it. He begins to notice that he is just one man in an immense army. This is an important change for Henry and plays a key role in his development though the novel: He suddenly lost concern for himself, and forgot to look at a menacing fate. He 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. For some moments he could not flee, no more than a little finger can commit a revolution from a hand. (Crane) This passage clearly supports that war is a terrible thing. Henry is lost in his surroundings and becomes nothing more than just another solider. At this point in the book, Henry has lost all defining characteristics. The war has brought his mind to the chopping block and reduces him to a drone in line with the others. He shares a ‘common’ personality and is ‘dominated’ by a lone desire of success as a whole, not an individual. This contradicts his earlier idea that war exists to make heroes and he now understands that to become the hero of his dreams, he must act as a whole. For the first time, after he is fully engaged, Henry acts honorably. The honor in war is never the individual; it is always recognized as a whole. Before battle, Henry perceived that if he were to stand above his regiment in battle he would receive individual recognition. This leads his worst behavior and it is only after he loses his emotions in the heat of battle does he realize that he has become part of the whole. After the battle, Henry receives some of the recognition he so strongly sought after, further supporting that the idea that the dehumanized solider is the...
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