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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Does anyone have a thesis idea on the themes of heroism or masculinity for The Red Badge of Courage?

I have an idea for a thesis that states Stephen Crane questions the idea of heroism in war through Henry Fleming. I'm not fully convinced on this direction yet though.

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You're going in the right direction, I think. It's been a very, very long time since I last read that novel, but when I did last read and teach it, I was struck by how often the novel builds up the idea of patriotism and of male achievement in war (mostly in the fantasies of the young male protagonist) only to let all those ideals fail in the moment they’re most needed and to show the young man (Henry's often not called by name in the novel) again and again failing in his courage or fortitude or whatever you want to call it.

You may be interested in exploring how Henry develops a fuller awareness of things once he’s away from the crowd of men, when he is isolated and exposed to the horror, for example, of the corpse in the forest. The alchemical transformation in the final lines of the novel, the change in the imagery from lead (rainclouds) to gold (the sun’s rays), may signal that some sort of transformation in Henry has indeed taken place and that he has finally become a man. In the end, then, you may see the novel as in some ways criticizing the ideals of “manliness” and “patriotism” yet at the same time embracing some notion of what a “real man” is, someone who alone faces a crisis and survives.

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