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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How does Henry's mental status and well-being change over the course of The Red Badge of Courage?

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The protagonist of Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage, Henry Fleming undergoes many of the emotional trials that many young men suffer during extreme pressure. At the beginning of the novel, he displays an anxious nervousness of how he will respond to his first combat. Fear overtakes him as his unit prepares for the first attack, but after his regiment initially turns back the enemy, he feels relief. It is only short-lived, however, and during the second Confederate charge, his fear returns in the most awful way. His guilt after "skedaddling" overwhelms him, and he spends the day trying to come to terms with his cowardly actions. After his crime is covered up by his story that he has been wounded, he again feels a profound relief and determines to make up for his deceit. During the next day's action, impulsive recklessness causes him to move into the open, daring the enemy to deliver a true "little red badge" that will redeem him in his own eyes. His actions are considered inspired heroism by the rest of his unit, and it prompts the others to bravery that many of them did not know could be summoned. After the battle, he again feels guilt at his perceived bravery, and when he confesses to his friend, he absolves himself of the false bravado (and the previous lack of courage) of which he had little control. As he moves out to the next skirmish, he is light-hearted, for he has "passed the supreme test," and the unknown emotional trials of before have been answered.

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At the beginning of the novel, Henry is very concerned about how he will react at the actual onset of battle.  He has heard many stories, been in camp and training for months, but now wonders what will happen when he actually steps into the fray.  He broods over the question and is quiet while the rest of his mates are ebbulient and singing and boasting about how they will fight.

His first taste of battle fills him with a rage and a strange feeling he can't quite articulate.  He is both proud of this and uncertain of its origin.  The second time he is confronted with a fight, he runs and is ashamed of this action but is actually saved from any public consequence because of an accidental head wound received from a soldier on his own side.

In his third encounter with battle he has reached a state of comfort with the whole idea and fights bravely, saving his regiment's flag.  He is praised by an officer for his bravery and finishes the story assured of his manhood and bravery.


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