Fear, worry, anxiety, curiosity, distress, nervousness; all emotions of a young, naïve soldier entering war for the first time. To the reader, this is exactly what Henry Fleming represents. Because Crane never tells us what he looks like, just how old he is, or exactly where he comes from, and usually refers to him as "the youth" (Crane, 12) or "the young soldier" (Crane, 14), Henry could be any young many experiencing war for the first time. Throughout the novel The Red Badge of Courage, Henry Fleming goes through many psychological chances, each having a distinct impact on the novel. These changes can be put into three stages; before, during, and after the war. Due to the ambiguity surrounding the character of Henry Fleming, the novel is not just a tale of Henry's firsthand experiences, but a portrayal of the thoughts, feelings, fears, and development of any young soldier entering any war at any time.
Although Crane leaves much to the imagination when it comes to Henry Fleming, he does however reveal quite a bit about his early life. It becomes apparent that as a young boy, Henry grew up on a farm in New York (Crane, 17). Henry was raised by his loving mother after the tragic death of his father (Crane, 15). The occupants of the farm consist of Henry and his mother, who together tackle the necessary workload to maintain the farm and keep it in good condition (Crane, 17). The life Henry has led up to the point when he enters the draft, has been somewhat quiet, protected and sheltered (Crane, 11). This "wrapped in cotton wool" (Crane, 21) lifestyle could party contribute to Henry's naïvely distorted views of war and later lead to his misfortune (Weisberger, 22).
Crane portrays Henry as a typical young American brought up in the nineteenth century (Weisberger, 22). He has been taught to associate manhood with courage, to dream of the glories of warfare, and to be instinctively patriotic (Breslin, 2). As a result, when the civil war breaks out, Henry volunteers to join the Union Army (Gibson, 61). Immediately, his mother disapproves of his decision, claiming that he would be much more useful on the farm (Crane, 23). At this point in the novel Henry is not mature enough to recognize the validity of his mothers statement (Gibson, 63). "Yer jest one little feller amongst a hull lot of others" (Crane, 24). His mother urges him to be brave and fearless, but it's a more mature kind of bravery than Henry can understand at this point (Delbanco, 44). Henry is exasperated because his mother does not see him as the hero he wants to be (Weisberger, 2).
Henry comes face to face with his first dose of heroism on the way to the war (Weisberger, 3). Henry goes from being a nobody to someone special as the result of his decision to enlist (Breslin, 2). He bids farewell to his classmates who now show great concern for their colleague who they have only ignored in the past (Mitchell, 109). His false sense of heroism grows as he continues his journey on a train to Washington that is surrounded by supporters of the Union (Crane, 28). He is now receiving the recognition he has sought after his whole life, however false the pretenses may be (Mitchell, 113).
But these visions of glory sink quickly in the mud of camp life. Henry's regiment, the 304th New York, does not see any action for quite a while leaving Henry bored and uncomfortable (Crane, 33). The Youth seems to think the only thing on every soldiers mind is one question: will he run (Breslin, 3)? When Henry asks for advice from his good friend Jim Conklin, he coincidentally gets counsel that resembles his mothers words of wisdom at the beginning of the novel (Breslin, 3). "All yeh got t'do is t'sit down an' wait as quiet as yeh kin. It ain't likely they'll like th' hull rebel army all-to-onct th' first time" (Crane, 35). Henry's self absorption does more harm than good (Weisberger, 3). He continues to try to "measure himself by his comrades" (Crane,...
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Crane, Stephen. The Red Badge of Courage and "The Veteran." New York: The Modern Library, 1993.
Delbanco, Andrew. The American Stephen Crane: The Context of The Red Badge of Courage. New Essays on The Red Badge of Courage. New York: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986.
Gibson, Donald B. The Fiction of Stephen Crane. Southern Illinois University Press, 1968. 60-89
Hungerford, Harold. R. The Factual Framework of The Red Badge of Courage. American Literature (34: 4) January, 1963.
Mitchell, Lee Clark. New Essays on The Red Badge of Courage. New York: Cambridge U P, 1986
Weisberger, Bernard, "The Red Badge of Courage," in Twelve Original Essays on Great American Novels, edited by Charles Shapiro, Wayne State University Press, 1958, pp. 120-21. EXPLORING Novels. Online Edition. Gale, 2003. Reproduced in Student Resource Center. Detroit: Gale, 2004. http://galenet.galegroup.com/servlet/SRC.
Weiss, Daniel. Psychology and the Red Badge of Courage. Stephen Crane‘s The Red Badge of Courage. Bloom, Harold. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1987.
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