Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 369

Two important sets of themes in The Red Bandanna are closely interrelated. These are courage and heroism, and altruism and sacrifice. In this nonfiction account, Tom Rinaldi recounts the experiences of Welles Crowther, an employee at the World Trade Center who died while leading other people to safety on September 11, 2011. Another theme is the importance of following your dreams, as Crowther’s heroism was directly related to a cherished childhood dream. The bandanna of the title, which had become his signature accessory following a gift from his father, symbolizes these themes.

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Welles Crowther showed tremendous courage in helping his fellow employees at Sandler O’Neill, a firm on the 104th floor of the WTC South Tower. Escaping injury himself, he carried a woman on his back down 20 flights of stairs. After the towers collapsed, his family had no news of him for months. They learned from survivors that their son had been a hero. For example, on his way down, Crowther had helped a group of people find a safe stairwell where firefighters could reach them. He displayed remarkable courage in going back upstairs to help other injured people down. Numerous survivors told similar stories. The red bandanna he wore was the recognizable feature that assured his parents that their son had been this hero.

Crowther might have remained with the others when he reached relative safety on the 78th floor. Instead, he displayed altruism, placing concern for others above himself. This tremendous generosity of spirit motivated him to return to a dangerous part of the building, hoping that he could be of service. This altruistic attitude overcame his understanding of the terrible risk involved. In taking that risk, Crowther sacrificed his own life to help others.

Ever since he was a boy, Crowther had dreamed of becoming a firefighter. Only a few months before the tragedy, he had decided to leave his job in finance and apply to the New York Fire Department. The core of the dream he planned to follow was service. What mattered to Welles was helping other people, and he realized that becoming a firefighter he could best do that. His ability to follow that dream was cut short by the events of September 11.

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