Compare and contrast Henry, Wilson, and Jim in The Red Badge of Courage. What does each character seem to represent? How is Henry different from any other character?

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HENRY FLEMING (The Quiet Soldier).  In the beginning of the novel, Henry questions his own courage and wonders how he will react when he is in combat for the first time. Will he run or will he stand and fight is a dilemma that he cannot answer for himself until the time actually comes. He yearns for his first battle so his own personal doubts can be quickly answered. Sure enough, Henry "skedaddles" when the Confederates overrun his regiment's position, but his guilt haunts him during his temporary hiatus. He is so ashamed of the cowardice that he displays that he swears to make amends if he gets a second chance. He rejoins his regiment, and his fellow soldiers assume that the injury he has received is an honorable one. With his secret safe, Henry displays true courage at the next opportunity. He is hailed as a hero by his commanding officer, but Henry knows better. He still feels guilt until he reveals the truth to Wilson. His sin unburdened, Henry's confidence is restored. Now a veteran of combat, he has no more illusions about his own abilities, but he also realizes that he is just one man among thousands on the battlefield. He can faithfully fulfill his obligations as a man and a soldier, but he realizes that he, too, may eventually receive the little red badge over which he has no control.

WILSON (THE LOUD SOLDIER).  Wilson is the direct opposite of his friend, Henry. Brimming with boastful confidence, Wilson seems to have none of the doubts that Henry possesses. He will be a hero when the time comes, he swears, and Henry wishes he could be more like Wilson. But we find later that Wilson's bravado is unfulfilled; he, too, runs when the action gets too hot. When Henry returns to the regiment, their roles have reversed. Wilson is now quiet and introspective, and he marvels at Henry's confident air. When Henry admits that he had run away during the first action of the day, Wilson is able to clear his own conscience with a similar tale. He joins Henry at the forefront of the later counterattack and is singled out by the commanding officers. But he also realizes that his actions were only a reflex--a way of redeeming himself for his earlier behavior. He and Henry are alike in the end, awaiting their next action and wondering what fate holds for them.

JIM CONKLIN (THE TALL SOLDIER).  A true hero, Jim is realistic about his abilities. He tells Henry that he may run if everyone else runs, but that he will certainly stand and fight if the regiment remains united. When Henry and Wilson run, Jim stands and fights, receiving a mortal wound in the process. Henry encounters Jim as he retires with the wounded, and Henry desires Jim's wound. Jim uses his last burst of energy to run to a secluded spot where he can die alone. His death further inspires Henry, who swears to himself that he will stand and fight like Jim if given another chance.

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The Red Badge of Courage

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