In The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane treats with his characteristic irony the epic myth in which the hero travels to the underworld where his innermost fears are challenged and from which he emerges in a rebirth to a higher self by having Henry Fleming come out virtually unchanged, or worse in behavior, if anything.
Here are some of the situations in which Henry finds himself challenged:
- Henry is anxious about going into battle, afraid that his rifle will not fire, worried that he may run when the fighting begins. "The strain of present circumstances he felt to be intolerable." ( III)
- Once the battle begins, Henry worries that he may "run better than the best of them." (IV)
- The war atmosphere bothers Henry: He begins to sweat. He has "jolted dreams." He wants to make a "world-sweeping gesture" and feels frustrated that he cannot engage in combat.
- When he sees the number of the soldiers in the Confederate army, Henry is afraid, hoping that support will come. "To the youth it was an onslaught of redoubtable dragons." (VI)
- As the other men "scamper away," Henry, too, runs, shouting with fright."
- Henry fears death "about to smite him between the eyes." (VI)
- After having run away and then seen that the soldiers have won the battle after all, Henry worries that he will be charged as a deserter. He worries about what will be said when he returns to camp. (VII)
- As he head back, Henry encounters "a tattered man" who walks aside him, asking Henry where he is hit. This situation causes him anxiety, and he tries to break through the crowd. (VIII)
- Henry worries still about being a deserter; he wishes he could have a wound, a "red badge of courage." (IX)
- Henry encounters a man he knows named Jim Conkin, who is dying; he begs to be pulled out of the road so that the wagons will not run over him; this makes "the youth...reached an anguish." (IX)
- When the tall man dies, Henry watches in agony. (IX)
- Henry wants to get away from the "tattered man" who wonders why he is not wounded. "The simple questions of the tattered man had been knife thrusts to him." (X)
- Gatsby is conflicted. He wavers from being filled with blood lust to being inundated with fright. "His capacity for self-hate was multiplied." (XI)
- Soldiers are running frantically and one hits Henry with the butt of his rifle.(XII) Stunned, Henry stumbles, but a "cheery soldier" leads him to his regiment.
- Henry tells a soldier that he was shot, but the soldier thinks his wound does not appear to be a gunshot wound. (XIII)
- After Henry get back he encounters Wilson, for whom he kept letters. Henry feels that since "had performed his mistakes in the dark, ... he was still a man" (15.13). He is still worried about having run from battle.
- In Chapter XVII, Henry finally is in battle. After fighting like a madman, shooting and reloading madly, Henry is cheered like a hero, but Henry realizes he has had no consciousness of what he has done.
- When Wilson and Henry go for water, they overhear officers discussing strategy for the next battle and whom they can sacrifice. One suggests Henry and Wilson's regiment. With great consternation, the two men return to their regiment and report what they've heard. (XVIII)
- After hearing what the mule driver has called them, the men fight hard in battle. Henry picks up the flag after the bearer dropped it. (XIX)
- In battle again, the men are told by an officer to charge a fence. Henry"felt the daring spirit of a savage religion-mad. He was capable of profound sacrifices, a tremendous death" (XXIII)
- The battle won, Henry captures the Confederate flag, noticing how the men resemble him and his fellow soldiers. Henry hopes he can rid himself of the "real sickness of battle." (XXIV)