Henry Fleming’s Courage in The Red Badge of Courage



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Gentry Feeney


April 30, 2013
English Honors 3A
The Red Badge of Courage
Henry Fleming’s Courage in The Red Badge of Courage
At the beginning of The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, the main character, Henry Fleming, enters the Civil War and wonders if he will prove to be a man of traditional courage. Throughout the story of Henry’s life in the war, he is pressed by certain situations that determine this “courage” he is consumed by. Most of what happens in the novel demonstrates Henry and his cowardice, but he does represent some forms of courage in the story.
Henry seems to be the type of man that will go with the crowd. To start off, during the first chapter of the book, Henry is trying to figure out why all the other men in the regiment speak of battle so highly and excitedly, “His emotions made him feel strange in the presence of men who talked excitedly of a prospective battle…,” Henry concludes that the men are just going with the crowd, as Henry himself, will later rationalize his actions this way, “It was often that he suspected them to be liars” (2.7). In my own opinion, I would not describe Henry as courageous at the beginning of the book because he does not act with valor at the beginning of the book and he is too consumed with the thought of others thinking he won’t be a courageous man, instead of himself wanting to be courageous. Courage, to me, can be defined as it is in the Merriam-Webster dictionary; mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty. To sum up, Henry later becomes an accurate representation of this definition towards the end of the book.

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Henry Fleming can be considered to be a hero through some of his courage, especially at the end of the book, and I, myself, do consider him to be a great hero. Starting at the end of the book, Henry reflects on what happened throughout the war, and comes across things that he did right and wrong. In my opinion, I think it is heroic of Henry to realize he did things wrong and move past them, and to also become a man full of admiration from his peers for his achievement throughout the war. Henry also realizes that he is a man of importance in his regiment, making him even more so “heroic” in a sense, “And, furthermore, how could they kill him who was the chosen of gods and doomed to greatness?”(15.17). Furthermore, a hero can recognize that they are being an asset to a certain group, and Henry does recognize the fact that he is one of the best fighters in his regiment, creating a hero of himself to his peers.


According to Henry’s character and my analysis of him becoming a hero and a courageous person, there is much evidence from his reflection at the end of the book, his encounters with other characters, to his actions during battle that clearly represent his persona. To begin, Henry can be labeled as a courageous person in battle because he keeps fighting even when he does not know what is happening in the smoke. Henry’s general comments on his bravery and how Henry has turned into a courageous man. However, Henry’s encounter with other characters in the novel proves to show that he is not all that courageous or a hero. When the tattered soldier walks alongside Henry and Henry eventually leaves him, it shows how Henry is not as much of a hero as he is put out to be because of his lack of honesty towards the tattered soldier. Because of Henry’s response to the tattered man, there is some speculation towards whether Henry can actually be acclaimed a “hero” because even when he reflects at the end of the novel he still cries out because of his behavior towards the tattered soldier and how he could have helped him, but

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didn’t. However, Henry’s reflection at the end of the book signifies his mental growth of what a hero and a man of traditional courage means to him. Even though he made mistakes, he grew from them and learned, and that can be considered a heroic or courageous trait among many.
To conclude, Henry Fleming’s attitude and responses during the war can provide evidence of how he became a sort of hero and a man of courage, even though he didn’t start off like it. Henry’s courage through fighting and becoming more in tune to what he wants to be, instead of what he wants others to think of him proves to show he has developed into a heroic person. Henry can now recognize he is a hero among his peers which makes him more courageous during battle as well. And finally, Henry’s reflections and attitudes towards other characters in the book goes to acknowledge his mental growth and his courage to face what he did and move on. All in all, Henry Fleming can be considered a hero and proved to be a man of traditional courage by the end of The Red Badge of Courage.





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