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One critical view of Stephen Crane's Red Badge of Courage sees the novel as a bildungsroman in which the main character, Henry Fleming reaches maturation as a man on the battlefields of the Civil War. In keeping with this motif, one negative trait of Henry's is his fleeing the first squirmish with the enemy and his positive trait is Henry's acquisition of valor in which he and his friend, Wilson, lead the regiment to victory.
In Chapter III, Henry sees the battle flag in the distance jerking about madly. His vision of battle does not coincide with his romantic visions of Greek warriors from his readings and Henry is taken aback by the chaos and panic of the battle in whose midst he finds himself. Panicking, Henry runs into the woods,groveling on the ground and "careering through the bushes."
He yelled then with fright and swung about. For a moment, in the great clamor, he was like a proverbial chicken. He lost the direction of safety. Destruction threatened him from all points....
He ran like a blind man....Since he had turned his back upon the fight his fears had been wondrously magnified. Death about to thrust him between the should blades was far more dreadful than death about to smite him between the eyes.
It is an indifferent nature--"It seemed now that Nature had no ears"--The sun blazed, the insects make comfortable rhythmical noises. "A bird flew on lighthearted wing."
In contrast to the flag that Henry views in Chapter III, Henry later sees the flag and feels
a despairing fondness for this flag which was near him. It was a creation of beauty and involnerability. It was a goddess, radiant, that bended its form with an imperious gesture to him. It was a woman, red and white, hating and loving, that called him with the voice of his hopes. Because no har could come to it he endowed it with power.
Fortifying himself with his romantic vision, Henry and Wilson with valor lead the 304th regiment to victory. "The impetus of enthusiasm was theirs again....And they were men." The regiment even takes four Southerners prisoner. Still holding the flag, Henry "nestles" in the long grass with Wilson by his side, and they congratulate themselves. At this point, nature seems benevolent as the clouds part to emit the warmth and light of the sun amid images of clover and flowers; however, in actuality, it is still indifferent to the inner feelings of Henry or any of the soldiers.
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