Characters Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Henry Fleming, a young recruit under fire for the first time in an unnamed battle of the Civil War, possibly Chancellorsville. A farm boy whose struggle with his emotions might be that of the eternal recruit in any battle of any war, Henry has dreamed of fighting heroically in “Greeklike” battles. Irritated and unnerved by his regiment’s inactivity, he tortures himself with the fear that he may run away when the actual firing begins. He does so. Sheepishly rejoining his regiment, he learns that his cowardice is not known to his fellow soldiers. In the next attack, he keeps firing after the others have stopped. When a color-bearer falls, he picks up the flag and carries it forward. Later, he hears that the colonel has complimented his fierceness. Henry’s psychological battle with himself is now ended; it has gone from fear to cowardice to bravery and, finally, to egotism.
Jim Conklin, “the tall soldier,” a veteran who comforts Henry and squabbles with the braggart Wilson. He predicts that the regiment is about to move into battle. When it does so, he is mortally wounded. Henry and “the tattered man” find him stumbling to the rear, still on his feet, fearful of falling under the wheels of an artillery wagon. He wanders into a field, as if it were a place of rendezvous with death. Henry and the tattered man follow him, trying to bring him back. He brushes them off and, with a...
(The entire section is 507 words.)
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War, for Crane, was a favorite metaphor for human life, equally applicable to coal miners ("In the Depths of Coal Mine," 1894) or to the people living in the slums of New York (Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, 1893). Courage and heroism come under Crane's scrutiny in his classic book about wartime, The Red Badge of Courage. Henry has read classical tales of heroism, and dreams of performing brave deeds on the battlefield, but he is deeply worried about what will happen when the regiment finally goes into action. He and his regiment have marched into northern Virginia, but since then have done nothing but wait. His concern is not "How will we men of the 304th New York Regiment do when we go into battle" but "How will I do?" In the course of his self-questioning, he has been "forced to admit that as far as war was concerned he knew nothing of himself." Of course, although Henry does not consider it, all the men around him are also worried about the coming battle and how they will behave under fire.
Henry, more often referred to as "the youth," has a small circle of friends that includes Jim Conklin, "the tall soldier," whom he has known all his life, and Wilson, "the loud soldier," who constantly struts and brags. Most characters in the novel remain unnamed except for epithets such as these, Henry's identification with his companions is not strong enough to give him a sense of community with them. The regiment is often pictured as a powerful...
(The entire section is 899 words.)
Henry, the protagonist of the novel, is a naive, young farm boy from New York state whose dreams of glorious battle lead him to sign up in the Union Army against his mother's wishes. Though he gets his notion of war from books about Greek warriors, his initial confrontation with true war perplexes him. Upon entering battle and witnessing the confusion and panic of his regiment, he flees into the woods and feels like a coward. After he receives his "red badge of courage," a head wound, this shame begins to disappear, however. He realizes that there is no dishonor fleeing certain death. He becomes confident and is happy to be called a "wild cat" by the superior officer. Some critics view Henry's journey as his initiation into manhood. Others feel that he is turned away from the possibility of self-knowledge into self-serving egotism.
In terms of the first critical view, that Crane depicts a boy becoming a man, Henry's battle with the landscape mirrors his internal struggle with his vanity and immaturity. He grows in self-awareness by learning the true meaning of honor and courage, as the novel ends with his renewed faith in life. He achieves an epiphany, as demonstrated in his instinctive desire to grab the Union flag and run with it resolutely to join his men in battle. The conclusion, thus, shows Henry as a man, aware of his maturity, his soul changed. Crane paints nature in this last scene as benevolent, with...
(The entire section is 368 words.)
The Cheery Soldier, another soldier-companion known in terms of his physical traits, is Henry's unidentified, strangely lighthearted guide back to his regiment; this mysterious person has been seen by critics as an allegorical figure akin to the ancient gods and goddesses, who lent their help to the heroes of myth. It is during the climax of the book that this character appears. After Henry receives his red badge of courage, he feels lost in the maze of the forest, and is suddenly taken up by the Cheery Soldier. Somehow, he is able to thread "the tangled forest with a strange fortune." The stranger manages to avoid guards and patrols and, at the same time, carry on an almost incoherent monologue ("There was shootin' here an' shootin' there ... ). When they reach the campfire where Henry's regiment is resting for the night, the owner of the cheery voice bids him farewell and disappears into the night.
Basically, the characters in The Red Badge of Courage outside of Henry Fleming are foils (contrasts) to his character. Jim Conklin, the tall soldier, as he is described by Crane, is more realistic about war than Henry. He tells Henry: "You jest wait 'til tomorrow and you'll see one of the biggest battles ever was." Without illusions about war, Jim is not as impatient as Henry is to enter into the fray. When asked by Henry if any of the soldiers will run from battle,...
(The entire section is 784 words.)