In TheRed Badge of Courage Crane takes us into the life of a young man namedHenry Fleming, who wants to enlist in the United States Army and fightin the war against the South. By using irony, similes, and symbols, toname a few, Crane “paints” a vivid picture of what life was like for thefragile Henry Fleming. He opens our eyes to the vast reasons of separationfor Fleming, and why he lived his life so independently. The precarious,vulnerable, and insecure Henry Fleming was isolated from more than justhis family and his regiment; he was isolated from himself. As the narrative, The Red Badge of Courage,opens, Henry and his mother are engaged in a quarrel about Henry leavingto join the Army.
By going against his mother’s wishes and disobeying her,he isolates himself from his family. This isolation is imperative to theway Henry lives his life during his time in the Army. Moral support issomething that a family, especially a mother, provides for a child, butbecause Henry has disassociated himself from his mother, he neglects toreceive this. This moral support is needed during the hard times of battle,but when Henry looks for this support, he realizes that he’s pushed itaway, far out of his life, and that it is almost imperceptible. Thus revealingthe first isolation in Henry Fleming’s life.
During war, a soldier’s most importantsupport system is his/her regiment. This is a support system that Henryhas, then loses throughout this time period in his life. All through thewar Henry questions his courage and bravery. He wonders if he will turnand run when death is looking him in the eyes, or if he will decide tostay and do what he came to do; prove that he is a man and can handle evendeath itself. During battle several soldiers are wounded earning their”red badge of courage” and Henry’s confident, Jim Conklin, dies.
Here iswhere Henry’s second isolation, the isolation from his regiment, occurs. The soldiers in the regiment feel a certain pride and respectability fromearning their “red badge. ” Henry didn’t earn this sense of pride and respectabilitybecause of the abandonment of his fellow soldiers. He felt that his assumptionwas clearly rectified- he was a coward.
Henry Fleming seemed to becomethe virtuoso of separation, individualism, and isolation. The tension iseased after he mistakenly “earns” his “red badge” from a friend. The internal fears that haunt Henry aremostly created by himself. He is apprehensive of the reaction he will havetowards any stimulus thrown out at him, therefore creating a fear thatseparates and isolates him from not only the rest of his regiment and hisfamily, but himself as well. He is afraid to face reality and see whatreally makes up Henry Fleming.
Throughout the majority of this narrativeHenry is torn between the boy he is and the man he wants to be. The manemerges through a brief handshake with the “cheerful soldier. ” This handshakeis the turning point for the value Henry places on himself. The handshakeshared between the “cheerful soldier” and Henry, swings him back into thewarm community of men.
These men, Henry’s regiment, can be looked at asthe saving grace of Henry’s self-confidence. Regardless of the isolation from his family,the isolation from his regiment, and the isolation from himself, Henrymatures over the course of the narrative. He becomes unified with his fellowcomrades and his regiment, puts the dispute with his mother aside, andfaces his fears and doubts. Stephen Crane, author of The Red Badge of Couragesummarizes this gradual and significant process with this vivid sentence:”Over the river a golden ray of sun came through the hosts of leaden rainclouds. ” This sentence, the last sentence in the novel, hits the readerthe hardest.
It points out that becoming what we want to become, like itdid Henry, takes time and continuous effort.