Illustration of Henry Fleming in a soldier's uniform in front of a confederate flag and an American flag

The Red Badge of Courage

by Stephen Crane

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At first, the narrator of The Red Badge of Courage looks on the Civil War with distrust, as if it were some “play affair.” What happens to change his mind about the war, and encourage him to enlist?

The narrator thinks that the time of glorious war is over, so he distrusts the Civil War and thinks it is not a true war. However, he starts to hear more news about battles and the glory that soldiers are winning in those battles. Henry wants to be a hero and believes that the battlefield is the best place to prove his masculinity. However, his mother does try her best to stop him from enlisting.

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Once upon a time the young narrator Henry had regarded battles as "bloody marks on the pages of the past". Though he'd dreamed of battles all his life and had always been utterly fascinated by them, there was a point when he thought that the time of wars had disappeared forever. As such, he never thought he'd get the chance to participate in battle himself.

However, his attitude changes when he hears tales of great movements shaking the land. The Civil War is well underway, and to this impressionable young man it all seems rather glorious. He avidly reads reports in the newspapers about all the marches, advances, and battles; he desperately wants to be a part of the violence. His imagination gets the better of him. Soon he's fantasizing about performing heroic, breathless deeds. Young Henry wants to be a hero and to prove his manhood, and he's convinced that the field of battle is just the place to do it.

His mother tries hard to talk him out of signing up. She sits him down and calmly states hundreds of reasons why he should stay at home on the farm. But Henry's made his mind up; he's going to enlist. Stories in the newspapers, the talk of the village, and his own fond imaginings have excited him to an uncontrollable degree.

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