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Red Badge of Courage Essay

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“The central thrust of the Red Badge of Courage is directed towards the puncturing of Henry Fleming’s youthful range of illusions. ” “Our inescapable conclusion concerning Red Badge of Courage is that Fleming is as deluded as the novel ends as he is when he first joins the Union Forces. ” Which of the above assessments of the development of Henry Fleming’s character do you feel comes closest to the truth? In your answer you should Consider the arguments for and against accepting the question’s assertions;

Bring to bear knowledge of external critical opinion on the issue; Look at contextual aspects of the novel in relation to the topic under consideration. ANSWER I feel that both these arguments show strong opinions and though both show a critical view of Henry Fleming, they are opposing views. The first statement seems to come closest to the truth in that the narrator uses irony to mock and deride Henry yet at the same time he feels a certain affinity with him also.

Statement two is a conclusion but not inescapable as Henry, although still deluded, is not as deluded as he was at the time he joined the Union Army. In choosing statement one to be the truer of the two I have come to the conclusion that the narrator is being used as a figure who mocks Henry’s egotism and self deception on one hand then shows sympathy on the other. Stephen Crane uses the narrator to tell the story from a third party point of view and therefore can use this to get his points across.

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This use of third parties belies Crane’s own experiences of death and mutilation both in his private life with the death of his siblings and in the stories, pictures and photographs he has seen whilst researching the book. It is possible, Stephen Crane had read General Ulysses S Grant’s memoirs and also “Battles and Leaders of the Civil War”, which was a very popular and factual compendium of four books at the time and he no doubt saw Mathew B Brady’s photographs of the Civil War in these also.

The novel is a naturalistic human- interest story but Crane uses the experiences of ordinary soldiers who fought during the Civil War to get the feel of how young men were forever changed by their experiences. Crane cleverly uses contrasts to show how Henry feels at differing times, using monster images to show how active an imagination Henry has, for example to describe a column of men, “two serpents crawling from the cavern of night”.

Crane also uses nature and colour to show contrasts, with constant references to how the sky looks and the fact that “Mother Nature” still goes on regardless of anything that puny men can do to themselves, for example “a river, amber tinted in the shadow of its banks, purled at the army’s feet, and at night, when the stream had become of a sorrowful blackness, one could see across it the red, eye-like gleam of hostile campfires… ” Phrases like “A fair field holding life.

… It would die if its timid eyes were compelled to see blood” and “He conceived nature to be a woman with a deep aversion to tragedy” all show Henry’s wonderment at the fact that nature can carry on despite what happens, and at times the narrator sometimes unfairly mocks Henry for this. As the story develops and we see how Henry deals with the harsh realities of war the use of symbols becomes more developed, with Henry seeing the darker sides to war and death.

This is when, I feel, the narrator becomes sympathetic to Henry as he tries to reconcile himself with the terrible things he has seen and done. The narrator give the most sympathy to Henry when he gets lost in the woods and finds a dead man, “horror-stricken by the sight of a thing” and again when he meets up with Jim Conklin and watches as he dies. Paradoxically he mocks when Henry’s thoughts turn to death and the hope that he “would be understood” in the afterlife.

When Henry celebrates victory too soon and then runs away and when Henry leaves the tattered man to die despite staying with Jim whilst he died. After Henry returns to his own camp and Wilson tends his wound he gets very defensive if anyone mentions his absence or his wound, to the point of him thinking of blackmailing Wilson with the return of his letters and the narrator here shows how Henry is feeling superior yet benevolent, thinking himself the better for not being able to conjure up a scathing remark and how his self justification makes him pompous, devious and condescending.

Henrys illusions are punctured again when after bravely fighting, he hears the veterans laughing at him, which only provokes him to further prove his own worth on the battlefield. His perception of the battle is now coloured by the “brotherhood of battle. ” The second claim, is wrong in that Henry is not as deluded as he was, he has fought his demons and come out on the other side, not perfect, but able to realise that he has done dreadful things and he will have to live with them.

Crane uses this discovery of self to great aplomb as he makes Henry question himself in the final chapter. Henry has a totally selfish and biased view of the world at the start, which slowly unravels as the story goes on. Crane uses the narrator to give us an insight into Henry’s mind by verbalising his thoughts and giving the narrators view of his actions. This in turn helps us to see the turmoil that Henry faces both within fighting the war and within himself. He turns out to despise his early blusterings and convinces himself that he has matured fully.

Although this is not true, he has matured to some extent by being able to see the flaws in his character. Henry still romanticises himself and his surroundings but his personal battle between his consious fear and his desire to become a hero has been won. When Henry joined up he believed that he would become a great hero and that he would win great battles, he of course had never even seen a battle except those that went on in his head. He boasts and brags, to himself, about how brave he is going to be yet he turns and runs once the realities of the fighting become apparent.

Through his experiences he slowly comes to terms with the fact that war is bloody and cruel And when his friend shows weakness he stores the information to use at a later date – something he later cannot do. To justify all that he has done he thinks ” it had been necessary for him to swallow swords that he might have a better throat for grapes. Fate had, in truth been kind to him. ” And to justify leaving the tattered man “he exclaimed that its importance in the aftertime would be great to him if it even succeeded in hindering the workings of his egotism. ”

Critics of Stephen Crane have both blasted this story as utter rubbish and Crane’s usage of the third party narrator as him trying to write a biography. General McClurg, when this book was published blasted it as blatant lies. His soldiers would never act like that in such a base manner. McClurg himself fought in the Civil War but being a general was not of course in the front lines of the battle. Many of the men who were, swore that they had fought with Stephen Crane even though he was not born until after the Civil War had ended. Such was the reality of the story to those people.

The people who thought that this story was an analogy for Stephen Crane’s life based this assumption on these claims, so therefore, Stephen Crane must know of the battle mindset. Personally I think that Crane had heard so many stories of the war he could picture himself there and could imagine how a young boy would feel going through these experiences. Rather like modern stories penned by writers for television and films. I believe that Crane has shown himself to be a psychological realist in writing this piece and that each reader takes from it what they want in relation to their own experiences and knowledge.

Perhaps this was a biographical piece and Crane used Henry to show his own delusions. On discussion of this piece, both within a classroom setting and using discussion groups on computer, I have read and heard many differing views of Henry. These views vary depending on the critic’s age. Many young people see him as egotistical, judgemental and self absorbed whilst mature students see him as just like most teenagers, too young to be able to see the big picture.

Henry may be deluded but like most people once maturity sets in delusions become lessened as experience is gained. In conclusion I feel that statement 1 is true because the story develops many internal storylines one of which is the puncturing of Henry Fleming’s youthful range of illusions, of which he has many. Statement 2 on the other hand seems true because Henry is deluded to a certain extent. This is one definite statement with no real detail behind it, the author of it seems to be assuming that Henry can not or will not change.

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