In chapter six of Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, protagonist Henry Fleming flees from battle in a panic. When, in the next chapter, he hears that the remaining members of his regiment defeated the enemy without his assistance, he suddenly feels resentful. As is demonstrative of his self-deceiving ways, Henry avoids his latent feelings of shame and inadequacy by reassuring himself that their actions were foolish, as any sensible man would be chiefly motivated by self-preservation, and thus would run. In an effort to escape the chaos of fighting, Henry walks into the forest, engrossed by his thoughts. Amidst the comfort of nature, he throws a pinecone at a nearby squirrel, and it in turn scampers away. Henry interprets the squirrel’s reaction as proof of man’s instinct to survive regardless of the circumstances. Soon afterward, he wanders into a chapel-like forest grove, within which he discovers the corpse of a soldier in a blue uniform. Henry stares at the body, his eyes unwillingly fixed on the hideous site, and then stumbles out of the clearing in horror.As a whole, the instances of direct and indirect characterization in conjunction with metaphor and symbol allow the reader to gain insight into Henry’s psyche and establish the overall significance of the chapter. By exploring the concepts of self-deception as a means of coping with an unfavorable reality and moreover the unfavorable reality itself – that nature provides a final resting place for all people indifferently, heroic and cowardly alike – Crane creates meaning for the reader.In a rather satirical manner, Crane uses diction to indirectly characterize Henry in the beginning of chapter seven. When Henry finds the time to analyze his actions after running away from the battle, Crane writes of him: “[His] actions had been sagacious things. They had been full of strategy..2E[He was] the enlightened man who looks afar in the dark, had fled because of his superior perceptions and knowledge” (Crane 82). Crane intends for the his depiction of Henry to be quite ironical, hence he employs three powerful, and even exaggerated words – “sagacious,” “strategy,” and “superior” – in the above passage. The terms “sagacious” and “strategic” (from “strategy”) connote superior discernment, foresight, and shrewdness, and “superior,” in turn, connotes extreme and utmost excellence. Overall, Henry justifies running away from battle by convincing himself of his supreme “perceptions and knowledge”; however, the reader is well aware that in actuality, Henry flees because he is inexperienced and in a panic.In addition, by likening Henry to the figurative “enlightened man who looks afar in the dark,” Crane once again achieves the opposite effect. This is evinced by another metaphor, from the second paragraph of the chapter, which reads: “[Henry] lifted himself upon his toes and looked in the direction of the fight. A yellow fog law wallowing in on the treetops”. The word “yellow” denotes not only the actual color Crane refers to, but also baseness and cowardice. Furthermore, Crane’s kinesthetic image of the fog “wallowing,” or indolently rolling over the treetops adds to the feeling as the term also signifies a condition of degradation and lowness. Crane shows that when Henry physically stands up on his toes and peers into the horizon, the first image he sees is a yellow fog, which represents abject fear, obscuring the sky; therefore, he is unenlightened, the absolute opposite of the man who “looks afar in the dark”.With the help of Crane’s indirect acknowledgement of Henry’s cowardice, which contradicts the outward grandiosity and egotism of the young soldier, the reader can deduce that perhaps Henry’s apparent arrogance is truly a manifestation of his deep-seated feelings of incompetence and disgrace. Likewise, Henry merely deceives himself in avoidance of his true, unheroic self2EHenry uses self-deceit yet again in a latter part of the chapter. As he enters the forest, instead of perceiving all of nature, he perverts the squirrel’s reaction to the pinecone in another effort to justify his actions. Crane writes: “The youth felt triumphant at this exhibition. There was a law, he said. Nature had given him a sign” (Crane 87). Henry’s distorted interpretation of the squirrel’s actions as a “law” and a “sign” in order to alleviate his subconscious shame and subsequently restore his pride demonstrates the subjectivity and invalidity of his ideals and emotions.After convincing himself that intrinsic laws govern humanity, Henry abruptly stumbles upon a corpse:The corpse was dressed in a uniform that had once been blue, but was now faded to a melancholy shade of green… Over the gray skin of the face ran little ants. One was trundling some sort of bundle along the upper lip…the dead man and the living man exchanged a long look. (Crane 88)As Crane writes, the corpse’s uniform has faded from blue, like that of Henry’s uniform, to a “melancholy shade of green”. Not only is the term “melancholy,” which connotes dullness and glumness, but also the actual color of the uniform significant. The reader assumes that a blue uniform would fade into a light blue or gray tone, yet the dead soldier’s uniform is a dusty green color. Perhaps Crane intends for the unusual color of the uniform to act as merely one facet of the portrayal of unity of life and death present in the above passage. Specifically, the uniform, which is the color of life and nature, envelops the dead man like an ivy or moss growth, camouflaging him into the scenery. Moreover, energetic little ants crawl and drag food – the sustainment of life – over the man’s decomposing face, once again evincing the concept of life continuing over death and the converse.Blending into the scenery in an almost unrecognizable uniform, the dead soldier does not expose much about himself; he just is. Crane uses the symbolic soldier to demonstrate not only that death becomes an undistinguishable and insignificant part of the “big picture” of nature and life, but also that nature accepts all dead creatures, regardless of how cowardly or courageous they may be. The soldier’s anonymity further reinforces this idea, as the reader is unable to draw any conclusions regarding the corpse’s character. Finally, by identifying with the dead soldier through eye contact and sharing the same type of uniform, Henry begins to visualize himself in the corpse’s position. When he physically sees eye-to-eye with the dead man (“The dead man…”), Crane figuratively suggests that the meeting has forced him to reevaluate himself and his motivations in life (88).As aforesaid, Crane’s use of indirect and direct characterization, metaphor, and symbol allow the reader to penetrate and expose Henry’s soul and gain meaning from the text. Overall, chapter 7 marks an important turning point for the maturation of Henry Fleming. Whereas before the young soldier was chiefly concerned with the superficial belief that humans should be measured by heroism or cowardice, the events of this chapter, specifically Henry’s encounter with the corpse, prompt an epiphany within him. The reader is finally able to gather that within the chapter, Henry is ultimately forced to abandon his preconceived notions of honor and dishonor and realize that when death comes, nature accommodates everyone impartially, thus courage and cowardice are absolutely insignificant.
Henry Fleming, after receiving his red badge of couragea blow to the headtakes over the role of color-bearer during a vicious combat. As he sees his comrade sink to the ground in pain, he fights with his friend Wilson for the esteemed position of flag-bearer and finally wrenches the Union colors from the grasp of the dying man. With the flag in hand, Henry feels immediately empowered; the ubiquitous symbol of freedom and courage invests him with his own power and valiancy as he rushes headlong towards the enemy lines. Stephen Crane’s continuous reference to color in The Red Badge of Courage, manifests itself outright in his few descriptions of the flag. The flag, symbolic by its very nature, invests the warriors with violent emotion as well as acting as an impetus for action, in the case of the young soldier. Crane emphasizes descriptions of the colors, the flag-bearers and the enemy’s own flag to further increase the depth of feeling in the novel. Since a flag often invokes deep sentiments of nationalism, patriotism and faith, Crane’s very descriptions of the flag tend to be wrought with feeling and augment a description of character. As Henry Fleming’s character shifts throughout the course of the novel, the symbol of the flag also has a changing effect on him. As he becomes empowered rather than terrified by the battle, the flag too impresses him in an equally more powerful manner. Before he attends his first battle, he sees the “flags, the red in the stripes dominating.” Crane further describes them as splashing “bits of warm color upon the dark lines of the troops.” This convivial description further effects Henry’s countenance as he feels “the old thrill at the sight of the emblems. They were like beautiful birds strangely undaunted in a storm” (29). The flag as a “beautiful bird” strikes Henry prior to his first true experience of battle gore; he has fought, but not at the height of aggression as we observe later in the novel. After this description of the flag and his affinity towards its symbolism, Henry runs away from the troops. Immediately before he scampers towards the back of the line and away from his regiment, Crane describes the flag as “sometimes eaten and lost in this mass of vapor, but more often, it projected, sun-touched, resplendent” (31). The flag, throughout, is described as something holy and divine; however, Henry sees this and then “into the youth’s eyes there came a look that one can see in the orbs of a jaded horse. His neck was quivering with nervous weakness and the muscles of his arms felt numb and bloodless” (31). Henry’s sudden feeling of fear and hatred for the war cause him to lose himself “in this mass of vapor.” The flag, though described with glory, is the first symbol that drives Henry to distraction.As he berates himself for escaping the regiment, Henry again thinks of the flag and feels even more fear of battle. By observing his feelings about the symbolic colors, Crane markedly presents his awakening fear and then descending empowerment throughout the novel’s chronology. In this instance, Henry thinks of the flag and wishes for death. “If the army had gone gloriously on he would be lost. If the din meant that now his army’s flags were tilted forward he was a condemned wretch. He would be compelled to doom himself to isolation. If the men were advancing, their indifferent feet were trampling upon his chances for a successful life” (50). The idea of the flags being tilted towards battle frightens Henry to distraction due to his desert of his party. He knows that if the flags were demonstrating a continuation into battle, he would forever be marked as a deserter, a pathetic soldier of abandoned manhood. The symbol of the flag leading the troops to war, invokes a fear and awe in him which is contrasted with his return to the regiment, where he struggles to redeem himself through bearing the flag. Running like a football player, Henry approaches the flag of the enemy and sees his own colors and, within him, “was born a love, a despairing fondness for this flag…it was a creation of beauty and invulnerability. It was a goddess, radiant, that bended its form with an imperious gesture to him.” Crane continues to write, “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” (80). Henry’s changed war philosophy is reflected in his feelings about the flag. As he becomes nearly omnipotent in his battle tactics, he holds the flag and adopts its “endowed power.” The flag called him “with the voice of his hopes” and he pursued those hopes by taking the flag in hand and bearing the colors forward towards the front of the lines. His shift in understanding of battle is aided by his love for the flag and the very autonomy he feels while holding her colors. Even as he angrily thinks of the comments of the General against his regiment, “he wrapped his heart in the cloak of his pride and kept the flag erect” (82). The symbol keeps Henry fighting with the might of many men; the very femininity of the flag keeps his manhood intact and strong. He is now the flag’s protector and he must wreak vengeance on the enemy even as their “fierce-hued flag flashed before his vision” (82). As Henry moves towards the realm of heroism, the flag is his shield, his pride and his charge. While he was feeling frightened and mistrustful of the pursuits of war, the flag was still resplendent yet it invoked an unknown fear within him. By following Crane’s descriptions of the flag, Henry’s shift in character is apparent. He becomes fully empowered by the war as he holds the colors and charges the enemy lines. The flag, besides presenting the obvious characteristics of courage and patriotism, acts as Henry’s personal impetus for battle. While bearing the colors, he becomes a heroic leadera man embodying the symbolic meaning of the flag. Moreover, the colors of the enemy produce such a hatred, that Henry insists on holding his own flag higher and using her colors as a sign of his battle-worthy self.
Stephen Crane, in “The Red Badge of Courage”, makes numerous references to flags, references that are all fraught with meaning. Flags themselves hold a great deal of symbolic value. They began as a way to distinguish tribes in battle, but came to symbolize “[t]he hopes and aspirations, the joys and sorrows, the romance and chivalry, of the human race” (Moss 1). During the American Civil War, when “The Red Badge of Courage” takes place, flags gained a great deal of import. “The Civil War generation accorded their flags more importance than subsequent scholars have allowed. They recognized the powerful ways that these emblems…elicited military courage in battle” (Moss). Crane’s flags, however, do not simply communicate valor; they are representations of the regiment’s, as well as an individual’s, spirit and pride, and are implicit symbols of power and control. Furthermore, they signify an untouchable glory and a potent god.The dominant feature of a flag is its color. Crane rarely assigns the flags in his text specific colors, often referring to them simply as “the colors” – a common phrase during the Civil War. Because they are so rare, the moments that he does describe the color of a flag are given more weight. Though neither the war, the battles, not the armies are named in the novel, it is “[b]ased loosely on the events of the Civil War Battle of Chancellorsville (May 2-6, 1863)” (sparknotes.com). Knowing the date tells us which flags Crane was working with. Henry’s flag, the Union flag, was not unlike the flag we use today. It had thirteen stripes (seven red and six white) and thirty-four stars, arranged in five horizontal rows (the first, second, fourth and fifth rows having seven stars each, and the third, middle row having six stars) (Moss 25). The Confederate flag – or the enemy flag in the text – was a newer development. It had changed from the “Bonnie Blue Flag” (a single white star on a royal blue field) to the “stars and bars” only two months prior to the events described in the text. Because of its similarity to the Union flag, there was considerable confusion on the battlefield (wildrebel.com). In fact Henry, at times, cannot distinguish between the two flags. In these moments, the war seems confusing and vast, a chaotic din of purposeless fighting.When a specific flag is described, the effect is particularly powerful. The first reference to any individual flag describes the stripes, not the color. As a regiment flees the scene of a battle, “[t]he billowing smoke was filled with horizontal flashes. Men running swiftly emerged from it” (Crane 79). This evokes the image of a giant field of stripes, presumably red and white, from which men are escaping. Red, in this book, often signifies blood; here, it refers to the blood of the losing Union regiment. This is one of only two references to the stripes; there are none to the stars, or even to the blue field on which the stars rest. This is because Crane wants to emphasize the bloodiness that the flag represents. When Crane refers to the stripes later, he says that they are “red and white, hating and loving” (Crane 179). This introduces the idea that red and white are contrasts, rather than complements. The flag represents more than just positive emotions – it symbolizes a range of emotions that begin with love and end with hate. One point at which Henry becomes uncertain about flags occurs during a second charge: “The youth could not tell from the battle flags flying like crimson foam in many directions which color of cloth was winning” (Crane 197). The Union and Confederate flags are mingled, and are described as “crimson foam”. The word “foam” brings to mind water, or even the sea – here, a sea of blood. The closest association with blood occurs when Wilson, Henry’s friend, has captured the enemy flag from the rival color bearer:He pulled at it and, wrenching it free, swung up its red brilliancy with a mad cry of exultation even as the color bearer, gasping, lurched over in a final throe and, stiffening convulsively, turned his dead face to the ground. There was much blood upon the grass blades. (Crane 205)The red brilliance of the flag is recalled by the red blood staining the blades of grass. In his fit of ecstasy, Wilson is immune to the grotesqueness of the horrible death scene he has just witnessed. The first sentence of the passage is quite complex: there are four commas, and it details the seizing of the flag as well as the complicated and drawn-out death of the bearer. The second sentence, however, is weighted with simplicity – it is made up of entirely monosyllabic words, and there are no commas or other punctuation. The war is bloody, but the men are blinded by this glorious symbol.The glory of the flag is reflected in the recurring combination of the flag and the sun. Crane bathes the flag in sunlight, creating a splendid, warm effect. Just before Henry deserts his regiment, he sees the flag in the battle: it “was sometimes eaten and lost in this mass of vapor, but more often it projected, sun-touched, resplendent” (Crane, 92). Later, once Henry has joined a group of soldiers and sits watching another group of men eager to go to battle, he becomes extremely envious: “He felt that he was regarding a procession of chosen beings. The separation was as great to him as if they had marched with weapons of flame and banners of sunlight” (Crane 123). Crane uses the flag in the sun to represent glory: glory in the majestic sense, glory that is far-reaching and unattainable. To Henry, the flag appears sun-touched because he will not be a part of the battle – he will flee, turning his back on the golden honor that the flag represents. When he sees others marching toward that honor, he imagines their flag as pure sunlight. Just as the sun is brilliant, so is the flag, and just as the sun will burn one who reaches for it, so will this flag burn Henry, because he has given it up.The Union flag symbolizes what Henry has relinquished, and Crane conjures another flag to give this idea emphasis. He uses flags to show the spirit of Henry, the spirit of the regiments. When Henry is walking dejectedly with the procession of injured men, the tattered man tries to find out precisely where his wound is. Henry becomes irritated because, of course, he has no wound. He says that his companions “were ever upraising the ghost of shame on the stick of their curiosity” (Crane 120). This image of a flag waving Henry’s translucent shame upon it is powerful: his shame becomes a tangible entity. Also, it is important to note that this is the only flag that is mentioned during Henry’s time with the injured troops. This is because the flag represents the fighting spirit, and in this group, there is none. The presence of the flag, and even its physical position, reveal how Henry and the troops feel. When Henry grapples with the idea of being called a “mule driver”, he decides to ignore the insult: “He presently wrapped his heart in the cloak of his pride and kept the flag erect” (Crane 183). Because he decides to remain unnerved, the flag remains standing. Several times, the tilt of the flag is mentioned when referring to battle charges: “[a] flag, tilted forward, sped near the front” (Crane 83); “[h]e again saw the tilted flag speeding forward” (Crane 91). The flag’s posture parallels the spirit of the troops. On a frenzied charge, the flag leads them forward with its tilt; it acts as the men do. When the men have a renewed burst of energy, “[t]he flag, obedient to these appeals, bended its glittering form and swept toward them” (179). It seems to not only stand for what the men feel, but to listen to their feelings, and act accordingly. When the youth, as the color bearer, gives up hope during a fight, the flag seems to channel his emotions. He watches the massacre of his regiment, and “[h]e did not know that he breathed; that the flag hung silently over him, so absorbed was he” (Crane 198). The flag remains as idle as he does, listless because the spirit of the regiment has waned.In another sense, the flag embodies the spirit of brotherhood. At one point, Henry loses his sense of self, and “became not a man but a member. He felt that something of which he was a parta regiment, an army, a cause, or a countrywas in crisis” (Crane 84). Civil War flag expert Eric Bonner says that “As blood was not just quickened in the veins by these banners but spilled for them in conflict, Civil War flags became totems of a collective cause” (67). This is seen later, when the men begin to fight selflessly in battle, with no regard for themselves, thinking only of the spirit of the army and the brothers they have found in the men alongside whom they fight.To further drive home the point that the flag embodies the spirit of the men, Crane often personifies it. While watching the men run from a terrible battle, Henry takes note of their flag: “The battle flag in the distance jerked about madly. It seemed to be struggling to free itself from an agony.” Once the entire regiment begins to flee, “[t]he flag suddenly sank down as if dying. Its motion as it fell was a gesture of despair” (Crane 79). While the flag often reflects what the men are feeling, at other times it seems to control what they feel – to dictate the level of their spirit. At one point, though the battle seems hopeless, Henry “walked stolidly into the midst of the mob, and with his flag in his hands took a stand as if he expected an attempt to push him to the ground. He unconsciously assumed the attitude of the color bearer” (Crane 184). Here, the flag seems to control Henry’s actions, though he does not realize it; it forces him to become the color bearer. Because the flag is seen through Henry’s eyes, the Union flag is described as wholly good. When he looks upon the enemy flag, however, it is inimical. Crane personifies it using very negative and intense adjectives and verbs, because this is how Henry views his opponents. An enemy flag “toss[es] in the smoke angrily” (Crane 78); it is “ruffled and fierce” (Crane 203) when Henry’s men attack some color guards who refuse to give way during a charge. The fact that the flags are described to the reader through Henry’s eyes is made clear during a scene when he views a battle from a distance: “The detached battle between the four regiments lasted for some time.” This battle is only “detached” because Henry is not a part of it. “The youth could see the two flags shaking with laughter amid the smoke remnants” (Crane 196). The flags are neither glorious or inimical – Henry is too far distant for them to make an impression on him, and so they simply laugh at one another.The subjectivity of the flag is underscored when Henry feels a burst of love toward it during a seemingly hopeless charge: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 agoddess, radiant, that bended its form with an imperiousgesture to him. It was a woman, red and white, hating andloving, that called him with the voice of his hopes. Because no harm could come to it he endowed it with power. He kept it near, as if it could be a saver of lives, and an imploring cry went from his mind. (Crane 179)This passage reveals several things about the flag. First, it is associated the feminine. This was not uncommon during the war: Bonner says that “[o]ne effect of giving flags such a feminine gloss was to elevate the importance of protecting them from the ‘pollution’ of enemy degradation or dishonor” (81). The importance of protecting the flag from the opposition is revealed when Henry’s brigade comes upon the aforementioned enemies, who stand their ground with their flag. For Henry, the flag’s possession would be high pride…[the rival color bearer was] fighting a last struggle…Over his face was the bleach of death, but set upon it was the dark and hard lines of desperate purpose. With this terrible grin of resolution, he hugged his precious flag to him and was stumbling and staggering in his design to go the way that led to safety for it. (Crane 204) Even in death, the protection of the flag is imperative; its safekeeping is more important than life. While it may be true that some assigned feminine qualities to the flag in order to indicate its purity, that does not seem to be entirely true here. This femininity is powerful – it is invulnerable, and because of this Henry gives it even more power. He is not the protector of this flag; to the contrary, it is his protector. To Henry, as to many of the men, this flag is a god.If the flag is a god to the men, then the army is a religion. Crane supports this idea in the text: the tattered soldier with whom Henry walks for a while has a face that is described as “suffused with a light of love for the army which was to him all things beautiful and powerful” (Crane 108). This feeling remains with him even after he has been shot and is starved and exhausted, in a great deal of pain. The army hardly comes to mind when something is described as “all things beautiful and powerful”, but this is exactly what this man thinks of the army, and it is not by chance that he feels this way. Like organized religion, the army teaches its members this doctrine. At one point, when Henry feels that the army may be defeated, he stops himself from thinking in this manner: “His education had been that success for that mighty blue machine was certain…He presently discarded all his speculations in the other direction” (Crane 128). Just as religious devotees believe themselves to be unfailingly right, so does Henry. This philosophy leaves no room for question; like the devotee believes that he will certainly go to heaven if he follows his religion, Henry believes that he will be led to victory if he follows the army. Every religion is the “right” one to its followers, and every army is on the “right” side according to its soldiers. When Henry’s brigade charges, the men reach a state of sublimity at the time of ultimate sacrifice. They rush forward, seemingly eager to give their lives for the cause. “It is a temporary but sublime absence of selfishness” (Crane 176). The idea of charging fills the men with hopes of glory – martyrdom for the sake of the flag is a tremendous and wonderful thing. It is far more noble than lying in wait, because it involves actively making a sacrifice for God. The most sublime of the men, the most valorous and willing to take a risk, carries the flag in the forefront, protector of God.The idea of the flag as a representation of God is not uncommon: “In predynastic Egypt flags flew in front of temples…and the ancient hieroglyphic that represented the gods was a flag” (Corcoran 7). Later, during wartime, “[t]he use of flags as representations of gods and God caught on…the feeling that God…was personally with them on hand seemed to comfort a man, particularly when he stood poised to do battle” (Corcoran 7). Indeed, the men seem to feel most reverence toward the flag when they are in the most danger, such as when Henry refers to it as a goddess. At this point, Henry is heading a charge in which he is likely to die. The “intimate act of dying for a flag placed [it] in a new, quasi-religious catergory of symbols” (Bonner 67) during the Civil War. When his fellow privates have taken a beating after an initial charge, yet must advance again in order to survive (though moving forward may kill them as well),[t]he youth kept the bright colors to the front. He was waving his free arm in furious circles…urging on those that did not need to be urged, for it seemed that the mob of blue men…were again grown suddenly wild with an enthusiasm of unselfishness (Crane 202).Here, we see again the sublime act of sacrifice, led by the flag, for the flag.The Flag is a many-faceted character: it is many things, and yet it is nothing at all. Crane enforces his ideas without actually stating them directly. The flag is a bloodthirsty, pitiless creature; it is a mirror and creator of spirit; it is a live, feminine embodiment; it is an unattainable glittering goal; it is a god. Crane does a superb job of making all of these things both possible and real.
The world of Stephen Crane’s fiction is a cruel, lonely place. Man’s environment shows no sympathy or concern for man; in the midst of a battle in The Red Badge of Courage “Nature had gone tranquilly on with her golden process in the midst of so much devilment” (89). Crane frequently anthropomorphizes the natural world and turns it into an agent actively working against the survival of man. From the beginning of “The Open Boat” the waves are seen as “wrongfully and barbarously abrupt and tall” (225) as if the waves themselves had murderous intent. During battle in The Red Badge of Courage the trees of the forest stretched out before Henry and “forbade him to pass. After its previous hostility this new resistance of the forest filled him with a fine bitterness” (104). More omnipresent than the mortal sense of opposition to nature, however, is the mortal sense of opposition to other men. Crane portrays the Darwinian struggle of men as forcing one man against another, not only for the preservation of one’s life, but also the preservation of one’s sense of self-worth. Henry finds hope for escape from this condition in the traditional notion that “man becomes another thing in a battle”more selfless and connected to his comrades (73). But the few moments in Crane’s stories where individuals rise above self-preservation are not the typically heroicized moments of battle. Crane revises the sense of the heroic by allowing selfishness to persist through battle. Only when his characters are faced with the absolute helplessness of another human do they rise above themselves. In these grim situations the characters are reminded of their more fundamental opposition to nature.Even before Henry enters the army his relationship with other humans is defined by antagonism. His mother asks him not to join the army and as a result he goes out and enlists. He announces his enlistment to his mother “diffidently,” (47) suggesting a conscious desire to hurt her feelings by exaggerating the ease of his decision. The moments before he leaves are not marked by any tender communion, but instead by an estranged irritation. Quiet antagonism escalates as Henry reaches his camp. The relationship between the veterans and the new recruits is not explained in the language of pedagogy, instead as in so many naturalistic relationships, the veterans are predators and Henry is the “prey” (51). As the men enter battle, the reader expects this antagonism to subside, expects with Henry, that “man [will] become another thing in battle.” At first the youth’s fantasies seem to play out as he feels himself begin to weld “into a common personality which was dominated by a single desire” (84). But in the first moment that the troops are confronted with a viable enemy Henry “lost the direction of safety” (93). The threat to his self-preservation causes him to run from the battle, and as his own worse fear is borne out, his sense of antagonism returns with gusto. As he runs he calls his comrades “Methodical idiots! Machine-like fools” (95). It is evident that the understanding of his own weakness drives him to denigrate everyone around him, for psychological self-preservation. This particular sense of self-preservation creates an antagonism that runs throughout the rest of the battles; “he felt a great anger against his comrades” (99) because he senses they are always trying to crush his own sense of self-worth. The shared nature of this antagonism is evident from the nearly constant fights in the Union camps, even after successful campaigns. On the battlefield, when the enemy is supposed to be the men in gray, the anger is instead pointed “against his officer” (179), or in another situation, “riveted upon the man, who, not knowing him, had called him a mule driver” (183); the officers, rather than shouting encouragement, let fly blasphemous curses against the men. Even the most outwardly heroic momentthat where Henry clutches the flag from the falling color-guardis defined by an antagonism, as both Henry and his friend “jerked at it, stout and furious . . . the youth and his friend had a small scuffle over the flag” (181), in an effort to secure the glory of carrying the flag for himself. Crane chose war as his venue for exploring human nature, suggesting his fundamental belief in antagonism as the basic state of humanity. Yet there are moments where the humans do rise above this antagonism breeding self-preservation. These are not moments of battle where the sense of a communal hope and venture binds the men together. Instead, these moments come in the face of absolute hope- and help-lessness. The most vivid such moment comes in the moments before the death of Jim Conklin. As Henry sees the hopelessness of Jim’s situation, “he strove to express his loyalty, but could only make fantastic gestures” (112). In stark contrast to his antagonistic relationship with every other soldier up to this point, Henry is now eager to do anything for Jim. Henry never believes he can save Jim, he mourningly says “I’ll take care of yeh! I swear t’ Gawd I will!” (112), but he never dares utter that common refrain of battlefield literature, “you’re going to be all right.” He is silently cogniscant of Jim’s inevitable death, and while never explained as such, it is just this understanding that sets this moment apart from all the other moments in which Henry retains his antagonistic sense of self-preservation. This interpretation is supported by the dearth of selflessness in Henry until the next time he confronts helplessness. Henry again transcends his solipsism when he comes upon a column of men that had burst “from their coats and their equipments as from entanglements.” As they bear down upon Henry, he “forgot that he was engaged in combating the universe”forgot about the gripes with his comrades that he had returned to in the immediate aftermath of Jim’s death, and “stared in agony” at the men. Henry’s ability to move outside of his selfish concerns again does not come from some sense of a shared hope between the men, but instead from his recognition of the army as “helpless” (130). The men in “The Open Boat” seem to have found a lasting sense of camaraderie in their own venture. The men consistently and cheerfully sacrifice sleep and comfort to give other men a break from rowing. But this sense of selflessness does not arise from a sense of collective venture, instead it arises from the omnipresent sense of hopelessness. Antagonism sneaks on to the boat only when they do come in contact with some source of hope. When they approach a tiny lighthousethe first man-made structure they have seenthe “four scowling men sat in the dinghy, and surpassed records in the invention of epithets” (235). This moment of hope is said to sharpen their minds, and “to their sharpened minds it was easy to conjure pictures of all kinds of incompetency and blindness and, indeed, cowardice”: (236). When they again see humans on the shore the men on the boat argue about the identity and thoughts of the people, “no; he thinks we’re fishing,” “no, that’s no boat” (240). It is the only moment of disagreement they have during their journey. Visions of hope conjure up feelings of self-preservation, and with them a sense of self-righteousness and anger. As they float out to sea again, away from possible help, the men find complete agreement again, and answer all requests of themselves with a docile “sure.” Henry enters battle with the notion that an identifiable enemy or opposition will help bring coherence to the men, and deliver him into a selfless heroism. While this does not happen in the war between men, a different opposition seems to help bring about the moments of transcendence in Crane’s works. An understanding of helplessness provides an opportunity for humans to bond together in the opposition to nature. Both Henry and the men on the open boat give a similar angry response to nature in the aftermath of their parallel experiences of bonding. While floating helplessly at sea, the men in the boat shed nary a negative word about the men on shore, but instead shout silent invectives at nature. At one hopeless moment Crane says that a man “wishes to throw bricks at the temple [of nature], and he hates deeply the fact that there are no bricks and no temples. Any visible expression of nature would surely be pelleted with his jeers” (246). Crane purposely leaves the identity of the thinker of this thought anonymous, suggesting that any and all of the men could have had this thought. Henry feels a similar rage coupled with impotence in the aftermath of Jim’s death: he “shook his fist. He seemed about to deliver a philippic. Hell- The red sun was pasted in the sky like a wafer” (116). Henry cuts his philippic short as he sees just how uncaring, and unapproachable the red sun is. Hopelessness opens man up to his more shared fate and powerlessness within nature, and creates a more distinct and hateful enemy than any men in gray. In this larger battle, man is changed, but only for those moments in which he is forced to confront his own powerlessness. Crane does not necessarily view Henry’s ability to transcend himself in the face of helplessness as heroic. But Crane definitely leaves behind any positive notion of war as eliciting self-less heroism; “there was a singular absence of heroic poses” (87). Even while recognizing that “it would not be handsome for him to freely condemn other men,” as Henry does in battle, “the words upon his tongue were too bitter” (156). Battle only brings out a willful self-assertion as the self-worth of each man is tested. Those few moments where a “subtle brotherhood of men” (231) is spied, are conspicuously away from the battle field, in settings where man is able to dwell on the larger opposition present in the world.
After reading Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, one is faced with the question regarding whether young Henry Fleming is indeed, a hero, or if he, in fact, has changed through the course of the novel. I believe that the young soldier has definitely changed by the end of the novel. He has a new-found sense of assurance and confidence. He is able to study his deeds, his achievemnents, and his failures by the novel’s end, and see them with a bit more clarity. However, the fact that Fleming has changed as a character does not grant him the high stature of a hero. By the end of the novel, it is abundantly clear to the reader that the protagonist of our novel has won a coward’s victory. At no point in the war was he fighting the enemy, but, rather, he was in a constant battle with his fear. Fleming did what any man would be expected to do: he dealt with the situation he was thrown into in an uniquely human manner. By the novel’s end, he comes to the realization that in war, he is not in complete control of his actions, but, rather, he is but a mere pawn acting in accordance with the laws of nature. Although I do not consider Fleming a hero is the traditional sense of the word, in Crane’s novel, a novel in which he succeeds in debunking the heroism war, Fleming is, in fact, perhaps, one of the “ordinary” heros that live among us. As we see in the end of the novel, Fleming has truly earned his “red badge of courage” not because he has fought Greek battle of heroic proprtions, but merely because he has fought a battle, and has that experience to look back upon.In contemplation of the bleak themes of this novel, I would be willing to consider The Red Badge of Courage as part of the developing Naturalist movement in literature as well as the already existing Realist tradition. In my opinion, Crane incorporates elements of both genres into his novel. Although he portrayed Henry Fleming as a character without any agency in life, a character who constantly felt “boxed in,” by the end of the novel, as the sun returns to its place in the sky and as its rays illuminate the battlefield, clearly, there is a sense of optimism. There is a sense that, although man has no agency and is given few if any choices in life, he has succeeded at what he was “thrust” into, and has gained experience in doing so.
Stephen Crane’s pieces are written with the intent to establish individualism as an unfavorable quality. He establishes that group goals are more important than that of the individual and creates groups to which each character should conform. Crane supplies models for the individual to comply to and elucidates that adherence to the group would bring reward but deviation from said groups would be detrimental. Henry, in Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, is created as a child in search of self worth and assurance. Crane establishes Henry as an individual by giving him the ability to think for himself but creates situations that stifle his individualism in order for him to stay within the group. Henry does the one thing that men ought not. He thinks. In his thoughts he sees past the glory and valor that comes with enlisting and comes to question what could happen to him on the battlefield. He acknowledges the presence of something that the other men dare not: death. The realization that lives are at stake, especially his own, cause Henry to question whether he will have to courage to stay and fight or whether he will run.Crane creates Henry as an individual in a mass society. He injects him into the army with aspirations of attaining a sense of identity. Crane establishes Henry as “the youth” to make it apparent that he was not like the other men of the 304th regiment. Henry stands out among the men and “muse[s] seriously upon the radical differences between himself and those men who were dodging implike around the tree”(P.184). Not only Henry’s eye catches his obvious detachment from the group. Upon seeing Henry, Wilson responds “What you doing here?”(P.184), extending Henry’s exclusivity and insinuating that he is out of place. Henry “continually tries to measure himself by his comrades”(P.181). Consequently, he attempts to quill his lack of confidence by seeking out others from whom he can find confidence. This search leads him to Jim Conklin. Jim states that his actions would be dictated by the surroundings “but if everyone was a-standing and a-fighting, why, I’d stand and fight”(P.180). Jim’s claim gave Henry confidence. “He now was in a measure reassured”(P.180).Though confident, Henry still lacks assurance. His fear of the consequences of battle make him feel strange in the presence of men who talked excitedly of the prospected combat. In an attempt to counter this indecisiveness Henry’s seeks the assurance of others. This confusion about his intrepidity leads him to question others. ” ëHow do you know you won’t run when the time comes?’ asked the youth of the loud soldier. ëRun?’ said the loud one; ërun?–of course not!’ He laughed”(P.185). Finding no persons that identify with his feelings of confusion leaves Henry with an extreme sense of solitude. “He felt alone in spaceÖ”(P.186). He feels disassociated from others “He was a mental outcastÖill from the monotony of his suffering”(P.186).Henry’s failure to discover persons with any mite of resemblance to his viewpoints leads to paranoia. “The youth ensured himself that at any moment [the army] might be suddenly and fearfully assaulted”(P.186). His fear was manifested as he awoke to the find himself retreating with the rest of his infantry. Crane had constructed a situation in which Henry’s individuality could not be utilized. “[Henry] ran with his comrades, strenuously [trying] to think, but all he knew was that if he fell down those coming behind would tread upon him. All his faculties seemed to be needed to guide him over and past obstructions. He felt carried along by a mob”(P.188). Henry was no longer a person, he became like the other men of his regiment: indistinct.In the wake of danger, Henry realizes that rejection of the group is impossible. He attempts to follow Crane’s naturalistic instructions within the novel, conforming to the actions and ideas of the rest of the regiment around him. He accepts the underlying law that that adherence to the group would bring reward but deviation from said groups would be detrimental. With this acceptance, Henry “suddenly lost concern for himself [and] became not a man but a member… He was welded into a common personality which was dominated by a single desire”(P.197)Henry runs not because of cowardice or insightful individualism. He does so because of a direct reaction to the group’s actions. In his yearning to be a part of them, he mimics them. Henry became afraid because they were afraid.”A man near him who up to this time had been working feverishly at his rifle suddenly dropped and ran with howls. A lad whose face had bore an expression of exalted courage, was at an instant abject: there was a revelation. He too threw down his gun and fled- he thought that all the regiment was fleeing”(P.202-203.) Henry seeks to find something to measure himself to, in the absence of his fellow soldiers, who had won the battle without him. He finds this in the squirrel. After seeing the squirrel scurry away at the advance of his rock, he justifies his departure from the group by alleging that it was nature’s will. The youth felt triumphant at this exhibition. There was the law, he said. Nature had given him a sign.Henry mingles into a regiment returning from battle but again feels like an outcast. He comes to realize that he is the only one among them that is not injured. Crane thereupon creates a situation that allows Henry to be assimilated into the group. Henry is once again consumed by a retreating infantry. And upon questioning a soldier he is “crushed upon the [his] head” with a rifle. Crane had given Henry a red badge of courage. He could now return to the ranks of his regiment acclimatized. Crane utilizes the general to make Henry stay within the group. After overhearing that his infantry can be spared, Henry finally acknowledges that his actions alone will not have any deep impact on the war. Henry fights valiantly within the group, driven by a collective feeling of patriotism and insignificance. “[Henry] ran like a madman to reach the woods before a bullet could discover him. He ducked his head low, like a football player. In his haste his eyes almost closed, and the scene was a wild blur. Pulsating saliva stood at the corners of his mouth. Within him, as he hurled himself forward, was born a love, a despairing fondness for this flag which was near him”(P.).Henry stayed within the group and, in another battle, attained victory. Crane’s hindering of Henry’s individualism had allowed him to stay within the regiment, and eventually receive reward. In sacrificing his own individualism he had grown from the youth he once was. He now understood more of himself and his potential.
The Red Badge of Courage is a novel written by Stephen Crane which explores a youth’s struggles in his first experiences with war. Prior to the novel’s beginning, Henry Fleming, a teenage boy raised on a farm, enlists to go to war despite his lack of knowledge on the subject aside from glamorized tales. During Henry’s trip to the military camp, a number of his peers, especially maidenly girls, extol him for his enlisting. However, this period of praise and glorification only lasts a short time before Henry is thrown into the monotonous daily grind of military training. At the camp, Henry finds himself losing sight of his ideal expectations of the glory of war. This loss of beliefs Henry experiences only further progresses as he begins to learn the personalities of his fellow soldiers, who he thinks the majority of to be much less intelligent and noble than he had initially expected. After Henry’s regiment wins a minor battle, they find themselves under attack by the enemy, causing Henry to break his vow to himself and run away out of fear. During his short time away from the regiment, he wanders through the woods and finds a sense of calmness. Henry’s tranquility is broken when he stumbles upon a decaying corpse of a soldier, an event which deeply shakes him. All of these events affect Henry so that when he returns to his regiment and is again immersed in battle, he undergoes a great change of character in which he loses some of his selfishness and accepts that his ideologies concerning war are not entirely accurate. Despite this eventual positive change, Henry initially feels many negative emotions upon his discovering that his expectations are false. Throughout the novel, Crane illustrates how the romanticism of war only serves to harm those people actually in war upon discovering the true nature of these ideologies. This concept is expressed through Henry’s reactions to the failing of his expectation of the natural world during war, of other soldiers, and of true courage.
The first area in which Henry is proven wrong in his beliefs is his fellow soldiers. Before experiencing real war, Henry believes the other soldiers must all be courageous, morally righteous heroes. During his time in the camp, he thinks to himself that “Men were better, or more timid. Secular and religious education had effaced the throat-grappling instinct, or else firm finance held in check the passions. (70)” Henry is surprised when Jim tells him he himself would run from battle if everyone else did, having originally thought that “all of the untried men possessed a great and correct confidence” (73). He is even prone to sometimes being “inclined to believing [the other soldiers] all heroes” (75). However, he soon begins to believe quite the opposite; he starts to think the majority of the other soldiers to be fools who simply cannot understand his own intelligence. He especially despises figures of authority. He is surprised when he is physically punished for lagging behind by the lieutenant of his company and decides, “… he hated the lieutenant, who had no appreciation of fine minds. He was a mere brute. (85)” When Henry later stumbles upon a general of a different regiment, he feels a similar outrage at what he thinks to be poor decisions on the general’s part, although Henry has very little knowledge of the situation compared to the general. Henry even goes so far as to feeling that “he would like to thrash the general, or at least approach him and tell him in plain words exactly what he thought him to be. (101)” Henry’s reoccurring anger at figures of authority for making decisions that are logical to everyone but Henry is due to Henry’s initial beliefs that all other soldiers, especially those in higher positions, would always be the shining picture of heroism.
The next reality that surprises Henry is the natural world during wartime: specifically, the way in which nature tends to carry on with no regard for the loss of human life. Although the text does not explicitly state the original thoughts Henry has towards nature before war, Henry is shown to be thoroughly angered upon seeing how the natural world is unfazed by the deaths of his companions. His realization of this concept begins after his regiment forces the enemy to retreat and feels “a flash of astonishment at the blue, pure sky and the sun gleamings on the trees and fields. It was surprising that Nature had gone tranquilly on with her golden process in the midst of so much devilment. (96)” This strange reality only further manifests itself to Henry when he fearfully flees from a battle into the woods. His first experience with nature on his trip away from the war is a positive one: “Off was the rumble of death. It seemed now that Nature had no ears. This landscape gave him assurance. A fair field holding life. It was the religion of peace. (103)” Henry’s positive outlook on the natural world does not last for long, though. He soon encounters a “corpse dressed in a uniform that once had been blue, but was now faded to a melancholy shade of green… Over the gray skin of the face ran little ants. One was trundling some sort of a bundle along the upper lip. (104)” The corpse, although still wearing traces of its former uniform, holds none of the glory that Henry so desperately seeks. Nature, as is shown by the ants crawling around on the corpse’s face, does not have any regard for who the human was when they were alive. This new concept greatly startles Henry, as opposed to the idea that the whole universe revolved around human life that Henry likely subconsciously believed prior to this event.
The last false ideology Henry believes in before going to war is the true meaning of courage. Henry originally believes courage to be unrelenting braveness, even in situations in which it may be wise to retreat. Right before he even leaves for war, he is already finding his ideal picture of courage challenged when his mother has “disappointed him by saying nothing whatever about returning with his shield or on it. (68)” However, his lack of drama does not stop Henry from constantly obsessing over the idea that to be courageous is to never flee once he does get to the war, show in the way he says to have “saw visions of a thousand-tongued fear that would babble at his back and cause him to flee… (80)” This obsessed-over concept causes Henry great internal conflict when he does eventually follow his natural instinct to flee from battle and starts to believe fleeing was the better decision and all those who stayed put are fools: “He shambled along with bowed head, his brain in a tumult of agony and despair. When he looked loweringly up, quivering at each sound, his eyes had the expression of those of a criminal who thinks his guilt little and his punishment great, and knows that he can find no words. (102)” Despite this growth, when Henry has a chance to prove himself courageous and care for a fellow soldier, he is shown to still be immature in his glorified morals. The ‘tattered soldier’, a soldier of Henry’s military but not his specific regiment who was brutally wounded in battle, can obviously not survive without someone to assist him, but when he attaches himself to Henry, Henry instead abandons the man, even as the tattered soldier can still be heard “bleating plaintively” and is later seen “wandering about helplessly in the field.” (116) Henry’s skewed idea of courage causes him to experience unnecessary internal conflict and to make morally poor decisions.
All of these ideals originally believed to be reality by Henry have toxic long term effects on his behavior. Henry’s beliefs that all soldiers are noble heroes that the natural world is deeply affected by human life or death, and that courage is synonymous to blind, unfaltering bravery all have detrimental effects on him when he actually experiences the struggle of war. Henry does emerge as a truly, subtly courageous man by the end of the novel, but many of his internal and external struggles that take place throughout the novel could have been avoided if Henry had not romanticized the war prior to enlisting. Although glamorization of war can make it appeal to the masses, this painted picture of something so morbid in nature can only serve to harm those people actually experiencing the chaos.
Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage abandons the idea of war as glorious and ideal, and instead shows war as rough and arduous, able to break an idealistic but untested person. The novel also departs from tradition by depicting its protagonist Henry Fleming, not as a towering hero but as an ordinary person given to fear and cowardice not befitting a hero. Looking at Henry’s development in the novel, critic Charles C. Walcutt sums up Henry Fleming thus: “He may have been fearless for moments, but his motives were vain, selfish, ignorant, and childish… He has been through some moments of hell during which has for moments risen above his limitations, but Crane seems plainly to be showing that he has not achieved a lasting wisdom of self-knowledge” (Walcutt 278).
Rather unusually, Walcutt goes on to describe the book’s action in terms of a geometric shape, that of the equilateral triangle. Walcutt sees the three points of the equilateral triangle representing instinct, ideals and circumstance which he claims are the three forces that guide Henry’s path throughout the novel. Walcutt’s model of the equilateral triangle correctly identifies these three forces as the main guiding forces of the novel but the model needs revision the three forces do not impact Henry equally and the larger role that instinct plays in the novel must be acknowledged. This can be reflected through the use of an isosceles triangle as a model.
Walcutt sees Henry running along the sides of the triangle, driven by one of the three forces, but stopped by another of three forces: “Ideals take him along one side until circumstance confronts him with danger. Then instinct takes over and he dashes down the third side in a panic. The panic abates somewhat as he approaches the angle of ideals…” (278). Henry displays ideals when he dreams of Homeric war and enlists, much against his mother’s wishes. He pictures himself as a hero respected by his comrades and adored by females Once he arrives in the army and realizes how straining it is on his mind, circumstance drives him to follow his instinct which is to be fearful, even cowardly, on the actual battlefield. It causes him to run from a battle and justify doing so by by comparing himself to a squirrel. Throughout the novel, Henry is affected by all of these three forces, each of which drives him to act.
Of course, no theory is without its flaws and so too is Walcutt’s. In an equilateral triangle, the three points are of equal value and always constant. These two factors make the model not fit The Red Badge of Courage well. The first problem with the model is that it does not take into account Henry’s growth through the novel. Henry starts by being driven by ideals, and faces shame and cowardice but reaches some level of maturity at the end. Walcutt’s model does not take Henry’s growth into account. At the beginning of the novel, it almost seems inevitable that he would join despite his mother urging him against doing so: “At last, however, he had made firm rebellion against this yellow light thrown upon the color of his ambitions” (5). The harshness of war confronts him and he runs away and lives in private shame as the war continues. At the end of the novel, he is a stronger man: “He felt a quiet manhood, non-assertive, but of sturdy and strong blood” (Crane 103).
Henry’s instinct saves him and keeps him alive and stronger. That is not to say that ideals and circumstance are unimportant in the story. However, the entire story revolves around Henry’s inner conflict regarding battle. His base instinct and desire are to flee from battle but his idealistic self says that he must stay and fight. Henry justifies it by observing a squirrel running away and concluding that because “[t]he squirrel, immediately upon recognizing danger, had taken to his legs without ado”, that cowardly behavior of the type he exhibited was the right thing to do’(37).
Thus the logical shape to represent the flow of Red Badge of Courage’s plot is not the equilateral triangle that Walcutt suggests but the isosceles triangle. Walcutt’s three points of the triangle are instinct, ideals and circumstance, all of which he values equally; hence the equilateral triangle. However, the flow of this story merits instinct being valued over the other two forces. Instinct should be regarded as more important because it is more fundamental and is what keeps Henry alive at the beginning. However, it prevents Henry from making any sort of meaningful contribution to the war effort. This is something that Henry is ashamed of and he works on conquering it throughout the story. He finally manages to overcome this fear and at the end of the story, he reflect: “He knew that he would no more quail before his guides wherever they should point…He was a man”. This sentence perfectly sums up his development: he started as a body who fled from confrontation. Towards the end, he manages to overcome this instinct and return to his ideals. However, the outsized influence that instincts have had in his development as well as the plot’s development cannot be understated; hence the isosceles triangle with instincts as the all important third, unique side.
Crane, Stephen. The Red Badge of Courage. Ed. Donald Pizer and Eric Carl. Link. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. Print.
Walcutt, Charles. Stephen Crane: Naturalist. Ed. Donald Pizer and Eric Carl. Link. New York: W.W. Norton, 2008. Print.
As Albert Camus once said, ‘You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.’ If ‘order’ within life means a structure that can bring meaning, ‘fragmentation’ deems life’s occurrences, whether fortunate or unfortunate, as arbitrary and therefore meaningless. Through being constructs of language, events within novels are nearly always significant. This element distinguishes the realist novel from reality, as loss and suffering without greater meaning are unavoidable in true life experiences, implying an inevitable fragmentation within society. Camus’ reality exists around the notion that in looking for order, you miss the very meaning in random events. From this premise, the novel exists as a ‘myth’ of happiness that ‘holds together’ a fragmented society through the possibility that random events can be sequenced, consequently revealing the meaningful within the meaningless. Yet as a reflection of the actual, the fragments of society can only be held together within the framework of the novel, and not in actuality. Life, either in reality or represented in a novel, can only be ordered completely through following a pre-ordained path. Throughout Stowe and Crane’s novels, order is not controlled by inexplicable forces but by expectations of society that, through being established, are deemed the ‘order’.
Within the war zone depicted by Crane, idealistic expectations center on two options: victory or an honorable death. Henry the youth rejects both of these options through initially retreating, a decision made based on extreme emotions: “There was a revelation. He, too, threw down his gun and fled […] He ran like a rabbit.” It can be argued that the pre-ordained structure that defines ‘order’ assumes a society without feeling and the emotional ‘revelation’ inspires a different course of action. At this moment the youth not only refuses to fulfill social expectations, but also the expectations of the genre; as a war narrative, the traditional subject would be a patriotic heroism, not realism that allows a truthful cowardice to be shown. Yet this cowardice is accepted through the adverb ‘too’ that accuses others of the same behavior, suggesting that the fragmentation of society can begin with only one person recognizing they can choose another path. An accumulating fragmentation is emphasized through structure; as the individual actively makes the decision to flee, the sentences consequently become more concise, as if fragmenting also. Through both protagonist and syntax refusing to remain in a pre-ordained order, it suggests social expectations of valor are unrealistic, in novels or in life. Henry is therefore truthful in outwardly acting upon his internal emotions, yet is seen as untrue to certain expectations of becoming a ‘quiet, manly, self-respecting [man]’ in a battle. Nevertheless, through these attributes being expectations, it can be assumed they have been formed before the battle. Therefore on a larger scale, the action of war is technically fragmentation in the order of human life; the previous ordered expectations become irrelevant.
While Henry’s rejection of socially ordered behavior is viewed as shameful, Eliza’s break of traditional slave behavior in Stowe’s narrative has ultimately positive consequences. Slave-owners build a path for slaves, which leads only to servitude and death. This structured ‘order’ gives economical meaning to slave-traders, yet it is arbitrary, chance events that offer a meaningful freedom to the enslaved. Eliza’s actions cause fragmentation through assuming she has a right to freedom in a society that is structured with none available to her: ‘with one wild cry and flying leap, she vaulted sheer […] on to the raft of ice beyond.’ The boundaries between genders are also pushed. Desperation forces Eliza from a female sphere of domesticity to a primal male wilderness, the action of moving from one sphere to another actualized in her ‘flying leap’. As in Crane’s scenarios, Eliza’s actions are insignificant when considered by themselves. However, the ability to physically escape presents an idealistic reality where it is possible to escape from bottom of an ordered social hierarchy. Through the genre of protest fiction, this fragmentation of a corrupt order is presented positively by Stowe. Yet Eliza’s escape can be seen as encouraging damaging fragmentation through Social Darwinism, as it supports the idea that society is fundamentally structured as a hierarchy that favors whites. The order may cause suffering but it is natural and this can only change through being challenged, proposing that this structure is in fact, not natural. Focusing on the individual can arguably be a lack of Realism, as in a large structure such as the slave market, people are seen as mass products. However, it is this very focus that allows for a humanization of each character so they are emotionally developed beyond their stereotypes of ‘rebellious slave woman’ and ‘coward soldier’. This consequently deems their actions of fragmentation as acceptable, and challenges how established it is if one evolves by stepping outside of society rather than gradually changing with it.
The past and present exist as separate tenses, yet the former constantly influences the latter. Using past influences presents difficulties for the Realist writer to hold together a society that is not based on the difficulties- the fragmentations- of the present but pre-occupied with the historic values of the past. Before any combat, the army’s sole experience of war is through myths: Tales of great movements [that] shook the land. They might not be distinctly Homeric, but there seemed to be much glory in them. (Crane, p.4) In viewing nobility through the context of ‘tales’ and not present life, it shows a yearning to reach this status within stories also. As realist writers attempt to represent events as they are , a difficulty lies in that Crane’s army are not even present in their own reality and search to fulfill heroic fantasies of past wars. To further this, the account is retrospective and the army treat the retrospective as legendary. Therefore, it becomes complicated in attempting to label Crane’s novel as legendary or realistic. Crane attempts holds together the present set of fear-stricken soldiers with past ideals of ‘glory’, unsustainable within itself as it leaves the soldiers unprepared when reacting to modern day issues. Additionally, the act of looking back can change perception; it ‘seemed’ glorious, yet time can work in forgetting pain and leaving only honor. A further consequence of past influences is the use of clichés. In realism, it can be argued that original language must be used to highlight a new, current sense of reality. If clichéd phrases are used and ‘great movements’ aspired to, it foregrounds the repetition of past language and highlights its format as a novel. This challenge is complicated through the genre of war fiction; just because the experience and perhaps the words are not original, the emotions imbued in the words are. The horrors of war must are thus so jarring through the reality of them bringing the army out of past ideals and in to a very real possibility of death. Whilst Crane proposes realism as imperfect in his novel, Stowe goes further in rejecting realism almost completely through the past source of the Bible. Realism works in a material, earthly sphere; through introducing religion, the narrative responds to a spiritual culture that transcends realism. Eva and Tom spiritually exist where the fragmentation their human sin causes is held together and even healed with the power of God and his word, only residing in the earthly, fragmented society when slavery physically drags them back. Eva’s ascension to heaven complicates realism as it transcends the physical, where it must be to work as a concept, to the metaphysical that cannot be as specifically described: Earth was past, and earthly pain; but so solemn, so mysterious, was the triumphant brightness of that face… (Stowe, p.428) A feature of realism is over-detailed description; in omitting pain from a death scene, it also omits any emotion that a reader could sympathize with and imagine in their reality. From this, the experience can be seen only as realistic to those specifically religious, those who can believe the spiritual exists among the actual. Stowe also omits an emotional range. If the order of society is based upon a set range of emotions, fragmentation is caused through feeling being replaced with something ‘mysterious’, an unrecognizable state. Even the experience of death itself can be argued as taking away from realism, as only those who have experienced it could describe it truly. Thereby, life can be seen as ordered through what is certain. Death, as a certainty, can then be viewed as instilling an order after a lifetime of fragmentation of human choices. However, Eva’s death is also a result of these Christian choices made, and her ascension mirrors the Bible when ‘he left them and was taken up unto Heaven’ (Luke, 24:50). This similarity presents limitations with the realist novel, as the act is not only based upon the past but a spiritual experience that struggles to be described with language previously used for the material. Each story therefore constructs its characters as partially within the past, in order to transcend the fragmented, present society to a higher ideal of either religion or heroism.
Through a self-conscious style, and specifically irony, Crane mocks the youth’s development from boyhood to question whether a single bout of combat is sufficient to induce change. Michael Bell recognizes the ‘dreadful power of established styles to determine consciousness’, suggesting that realism as an established, recognizable technique is limiting as it presents every reader with the same effect. Crane instead manipulates the concept and transcends the ‘established’ effect through a character development that suggests a dubious, new ‘consciousness’ on the influence of war. Growth can be seen throughout, yet irony mocks the realistic pre-occupation with internal progress: ‘He felt a quiet manhood, unassertive but of sturdy and strong blood […] he was a man’ (Crane, p.109). A lack of stereotypical language questions expectations of masculinity. His proclamation of manhood as ‘quiet’, residing as anything but a proclamation; this perhaps suggests a man need not proclaim his masculinity outwardly for it to be true, and having ‘strong blood’ and strength of heart enough. Yet even this claim is ironic, as emotional durability plays but a small part in physical combat. Furthermore, in any society, boy must become man to fill pre-ordained positions in an established structure. So in the development being emotional instead of physical, the youth claims a false manhood and breaks down this established transition. It is therefore through this self-conscious technique of irony that mocks Henry as a ‘man’ that realism is rejected. In using language to suggest a further meaning than initial face value, it presents an ambiguous, changeable reality.
Although Stowe is conscious of the effect of her language, she focuses less on subtle technique and instead reacts to her characters through an obvious narrative perspective. Jane P. Tomkins comments that ‘Rhetoric makes history by shaping reality to the dictates of its political design’, of which Stowe’s commentary achieves through ‘The Concluding Remarks’ that suggests the correct reaction to the current politics previously presented through fiction. In the genre of protest fiction, Stowe attempts to ‘shape’ reality through extending the issues of slavery from paper to reality: ‘And now, men and women of America, is this a thing to be trifled with, apologized for, and passed over in silence?’ (Stowe, p.623). The nation as a whole is specifically addressed, suggesting a hope for a united national identity that can be achieved through abolishing slavery. It also works to highlight the emotional ideals the American constitution is based on: freedom from European powers, highlighting their fortune in having what slaves do not. Stowe must therefore employ realism, however imperfect, to raise awareness specifically to the upper classes of ‘the life of the lowly’, to shame them to action beyond apologizing. Stowe thereby holds together the fragmented society within the novel through allowing Eliza and George to escape and the reformation of characters such as Master George, presenting a brighter future without slavery in fiction. But, she also extends this to reality in acknowledging that whilst the horrors of slavery in this novel are a construct of language, it occurs in reality also. This does pose the problem of protest fiction; through using fiction as a tool of awareness, it makes questions how far Stowe has self-consciously ‘shaped’ the language to evoke emotion. Yet, this becomes irrelevant when considered in the larger system of slavery, as specific hardships do not matter, only that people are still being enslaved. Thus, in using self-conscious techniques, both Stowe and Crane take the established effect of realistic fiction and distort it to suggest that reality is not always as it seems, even in books that in part represent it. Therefore, what others deem as established systems and therefore order –slavery and war – can be fragmentation to others who deem it fundamentally the wrong established order.
The connotations of ‘order’ and ‘fragmentation’ are respectively, positive and negative. Yet, both Crane and Stowe invert this conception. Through presenting a society that encourages violence, war, and enslavement that encompass an ‘order’, the action of breaking down these immoral structures through ‘fragmentation’ becomes a positive action. The order of society which is ‘falling apart’ is initially ‘[held] together’ through maintaining expectations of the relationship between master and slave in Stowe’s novel and an outward display of bravado in Crane’s. These are subsequently broken down through challenging conventions: the youth succumbs to fear and there remains a chance for black slaves to live as free whites did. Therefore, instead of attempting to hold society together, each author almost recognizes that it would be better to wholly accept society as falling apart. Society and all its ordered expectations must be fragmented completely to the point of being torn down. Only then will ‘a golden ray of sun [come] through the hosts of leaden rain clouds’ (Crane, p.88) and the human race will be able to re-ordered in a better moral order.
Bibliography Beecher Stowe, H., Uncle Tom’s Cabin Or, Life Among the Lowly (London: Penguin Classics, 1986)
Camus, A., Youthful Writings, ed. by Paul Viallenaneix (New York: Random House Publishing, 1976)
Crane, S., The Red Badge of Courage, ed. by Donald Pizer (New York & London: Norton, 1994)
Davitt Bell, M., The Problems of American Realism (Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press, 1993)
Tompkins, J. in Domestic Individualism: Imagining Self in Nineteenth-Century America, by Gillian Brown (Oxford: University of California Press, 1992)
‘The Red Badge of Courage’ by Stephen Crane is not merely a war novel. It is an account of a young man’s struggle to understand both himself and the world, as well as deal with the burdens that come with it. Henry, the young soldier and protagonist of the book, slowly starts to grasp nature’s role in a human’s life, and battles with himself to sort out his conflicting beliefs on bravery and cowardice. All throughout the novel he slowly transforms from a selfish, naïve youth to a mature, weathered soldier who understands what is truly important in life. These themes shine a light through endless bloodshed and ceaseless gunshots, giving the book a more personal aspect and allowing us to connect to it more profoundly. Bravery and cowardice, especially Henry’s connection to it, are predominant themes in the book. Henry stubbornly pursues his romanticized version of bravery, of fearless men charging into battle and either emerging victorious or dying gloriously. However, once he is faced with the reality of battle his courage starts to dwindle and doubts set in, not sure whether he will be brave enough: “He finally concluded that the only way to prove himself was to go into the blaze, and then figuratively to watch his legs discover their merits and faults.” (12) Henry constantly compares himself to his comrades and his perception of courage has to do with how his peers praise him, constantly afraid they would laugh at him if he did not prove himself worthy. When he returns to camp after running away from the fighting, “He had a conviction that he would soon feel in his sore heart the barbed missiles of ridicule.” (67) He often thinks of himself as a coward. However, during Henry’s most courageous moment in battle he hardly notices the bravery he was showing; he isn’t aware of anything except heat, noise, and the sound of his own gun. Nature’s role in war and human affairs is a main topic in the book. It explores Henry’s connection to it and his ponderings on its workings. The natural world continues with its own business no matter what horrors and atrocities are committed within it. Henry regards it as a safe haven and often seeks the comfort of nature when he is feeling overwhelmed by battle: “The landscape gave him assurance. A fair field holding life. It was the religion of peace.” (41) Later, Henry learns that the universe has complete disregard for human life. His vain beliefs of death, bravery, and glory don’t interest it, and Henry is confronted by this when he sees a dead corpse under a tree. “The eyes, staring at the youth, had changed to a dull hue to be seen on the side of a dead fish. The mouth was open, its red had changed to an appalling yellow.” (42) Henry realizes that there is nothing glorious about death and that it is simply integral to nature. Henry’s impression of nature as a peaceful refuge from war is shattered. He understands that the vast universe has no regard for human life whatsoever, and that everyone has a duty to protect not only themselves but also those around them.Somewhere within the relentless battering of the enemy army, Henry matures from a naïve boy to a wise man. Early on, he imagines that a uniform is all that was needed to be a hero. He constantly compares himself to others and thinks himself intellectually superior. However, he finds the true meaning of friendship and loyalty in Wilson and begins to care for other people apart from himself. This psychological transformation is driven by a number of factors, particularly the fear and injury he suffered during war, but also because of some self-reflection. Henry’s ability to observe and reflect on the world and people around him is both his strength and his weakness. At the end of the book, he, now a matured veteran, understands the hardships of war and no longer hungers for the glory it could bring. “He turned now with a lover’s thirst to images of tranquil skies, fresh meadows, cool brooks, – an existence of soft and eternal peace.” (118)With Crane exploring themes such as bravery and cowardice, personal transformation, and nature, the book retains a more individual perspective on war. It allows the reader to understand and sympathize more with Henry because we recognize aspects of our own life in the story. It is not merely a war novel, but also a humane and intimate account of one soldier’s struggle to understand himself and the world around him.