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 mother's advice echo throughout The Red Badge of Courage?

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In the first chapter, Henry's mother wisely advises her son that war is realistically not the same as the glorified versions of "war ardor" and "patriotism" to which Henry succumbs; she tells her son,

"Henry, don't be a fool....Don't go a-thinkin' you can lick the hull rebel army at the start, because yeh can't. Yer jest one little feller amongst a hull lot of others, and yeh've got to keep quiet an' do what they tell yuh."

She also advises Henry to be careful with whom he associates as there are "lots of bad men in the army." His mother adds, though, that he must not shirk his responsibilities, either: "don't think of anything but what's right."

  • The first battle that Henry experiences in Chapter 5 underscores some of his mother's words. For, it is certainly not a magnificent display of patriotism and strength as Henry has previously envisioned. Instead, the scene is chaotic, with men not knowing what they are doing. Moreover, men live or die purely by chance and there does not seem to be much of a victory. "...these jolted dreams were never perfect to him afterward, but remained a mass of blurred shapes."
  • In the second battle, Henry is yet unsure of his aplomb or of the company's chances of withstanding such an unrelenting enemy. Terrified for his life, Henry runs when he sees other men doing so; he runs purely out of his instinct to survive; this fear for his life supersedes any patriotism or desire to be a worthy soldier. Later, his mother's advice to maintain his integrity and obey his superiors haunts Henry and he makes great efforts to overcome his cowardliness by showing bravery and "doing what's right" when he picks up the Union flag and leads the others. And, yet, Henry's bravery is somewhat selfishly motivated as he deserts the "tattered man." 
  • In spite of the bravery involved, Henry's taking up of the flag displays the "war ardor" against which his mother has cautioned him. For, carrying the flag prevents Henry from being able to quickly use his rifle, and it also makes him a large target.

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