Early in Stephen Crane's novel, Henry Fleming is selfishly focused upon his own misgivings about war, his fears and desires. However, there is a development to Henry as he experiences warfare:
- In Chapter V, Henry achieves some honor as does abandon his self-focus and concerns of his own well-being. In the roar of battle, Henry fires his gun and becomes a soldier:
He suddenly lost concern for himself, and forgot to look at a menacing fate. He became not a man but a member..... He was welded into a common personality which was dominated by a single desire. For some moments he could not flee, no more than a little finger can commit a revolution from a hand.
- In Chapter XIII, after having run from his troop, Henry encounters other soldiers falling back from battle. In the confusion, he is struck by one soldier with the blunt end of his rifle. Then, when he returns to the camp of his regiment, Henry realizes that the men think that he has been in combat and wounded. Therefore, they mistakenly consider him heroic and welcome him back:
[H]e had performed his mistakes in the dark, so he was still a man.....
He gave a long sigh, snuggled down into his blanket, and in a moment was like his comrades.
- However it is in Chapter XVII that Henry displays true valor as, when the flagbearer falls, he picks up the flag and leads the charge of soldiers to victory.
Some of the men muttered and looked at the youth in awe–struck ways... as they had found time to regard him.
- Finally, at the end of the novel, as an old Henry Fleming talks with others at the foot of a large tree,
...in the tone of their laughter there was probably more admiration than if old Fleming had declared that he had always been a lion. Moreover, they knew that he had ranked as an orderly sergeant, and so their opinion of his heroism was fixed
Interestingly, then, the defining of heroism becomes difficult because others perceive it in a different mode. For Henry, there is a clear line between clear and cloudy.
Henry shows both courage and heroism in The Red Badge of Courage, with the extent of these qualities increasing and evolving as the story goes on.
In the early stages, Henry's bravery is based on his loyalty to the others in his regiment. When the fighting starts around him and he realizes that the others, as well as himself, are in danger, his fear is overcome by the urge to protect his comrades.
He suddenly lost concern for himself, and forgot to look at a menacing fate. He became not a man but a member. He felt that something of which he was a part - a regiment, an army, a cause, or a country - was in crisis. He was welded into a common personality which was dominated by a single desire.
As Henry learned more about fighting and about reacting to the fearsomeness of battle, his heroism changed. While he still felt concern for those around him, he was becoming aware that the individual lives were tiny parts of something much larger, represented by symbols beyond mere human bodies. His actions in saving the flag from enemy capture were heroism inspired by this newly found loyalty to country and the powerful ideas it represented.
Within him, as he hurled himself forward, was born a love, a despairing fondness for this flag which was near him. It was a creation of beauty and invulnerability. It was a goddess, radiant, that bended its form with an imperious gesture to him. It was a woman, red and white, hating and loving, that called him with the voice of his hopes. Because no harm could come to it he endowed it with power.
By the end of the story, Henry shows his heroism in his every action and thought. He has conquered fear; he has overcome worries about what might happen to himself. His reason for being was to follow his orders, to fight as well as he could to protect those who were less experienced in battle, to lead them through the danger and on to peace on the other side.
He felt a quiet manhood, nonassertive but sturdy and strong of blood. He knew that he would no more quail before his guides wherever they should point. He had been to touch the great death, and found that, after all, it was but the great death. He was a man.
Henry had become a hero as he had learned to face his fears, deal with them, and move on to help others deal with their fear.