What is your first impression of Henry Fleming in Red Badge of Courage? What challenging or stressful situations does Henry face?
The first impression the author gives us of Henry Fleming is that of a youth who is totally untried. As the soldiers around him give their various opinions about when they will see battle, Henry is silent, listening with "eager ears...to the varied comments of his comrades". He leaves the company of the others to lie for awhile on his bunk, so that he can ruminate in private "some new thoughts that had lately come to him". He is in "a little trance of astonishment" at the thought that "on the morrow, perhaps, there would be a battle, and he would be in it".
Henry has no idea about what war is really like. He has an idealistic view of battle; he
"had burned several times to enlist...Tales of great movements shook the land...there seemed to be much glory in them. He had read of marches, sieges, conflicts, and he had longed to see it all. His busy mind had drawn for him large pictures extravagant in color, lurid with breathless deeds".
In a flashback to Henry's homelife before he became a soldier, the author shows that Henry's romantic view of war had been tempered by his mother's practicality. She countered his fantastic yearnings with "many hundreds of reasons why he was of vastly more importance on the farm than on the field of battle". The influence that Henry's mother had on him is further proof of his extreme youth. He was young and inexperienced enough so that her discouragement had a great effect on him; he still believed "that her ethical motive in the argument was impregnable".
Finally, though, Henry made "firm rebellion" against his mother's dissent. In an "ecstasy of excitement", he announced to her that he was going to enlist, and he followed through on his resolve. Having met the challenge of making his own decision and acting on it, Henry was disappointed in his mother's reaction. Instead of the "beautiful scene" he had imagined would take place when he set off for the fields of battle, his mother had responded in a completely practical manner, attending to the details of seeing that he had proper provisions for his journey, and giving him sage reminders about how to behave.
Although his mother bade him leave almost dispassionately, she was in actuality deeply hurt and saddened by his decision. Henry must deal with feelings of guilt upon leaving, as he looks back to see his mother carrying on with the interminable work on the farm alone, while "her brown face, upraised, (is) stained with tears...her spare form...quivering" (Part 1).
check Approved by eNotes Editorial