Essay, Research Paper: Red Badge Of Courage

Literature: Civil War

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Adolescence brings about many changes as a youth becomes an adult. For many
people this passage is either tedious and painful or simple and barely
noticeable. The anguish and torture that is usually associated with rites of
passage and growing up is often used in literature, as it is common and easily
understood. In The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, the character Henry
Fleming survives the Civil War, which serves as his rite of passage as it
teaches him the importance of things such as dreams, companionship, dignity,
individualism, and, of course, courage. In the beginning of the novel, Henry is
determined and eager to fight in war, which is his dream and goal. From all the
tales told by others of fighting and glory, he can not help but idolize the duty
of the soldier and aspire to become the very same soldier. Once he leaves home,
he starts to feel the indescribable feeling, like a rush of excitement and
anxiety at the same time. His entire future is ahead of him, and he is walking
towards it with open arms. Unfortunately, his dreams are virtually shattered
time and time again as he fights on in battle. Eventually, Henry is faced with
the ultimate enemy – himself. He begins to doubt his own self-confidence and
wonders whether he will stay and fight or run when faced with death and war at
the battlefields. He questions his fellow soldiers and doubts whether they will
accept him later should he run from the battle. What will they do? Will they run
or stay? If he runs and the other soldiers don’t, what will they think of him?
Such questions suggest the constant dilemma experienced by most adolescents,
which would be conformity, peer pressure, and acceptance. Henry eventually flees
from the scene, reexamines himself and his thoughts, and musters up the courage
to return to the battlefield. This is part of growing up – facing your fears
and giving it another shot. Henry also learns the importance of companionship
and its limits, which plays an important part in anyone’s life as friends are
one of life’s greatest treasures. Henry promised his friend Jim Conklin that
he’d take care of him. This promise lasts only for a moment since John
Conklin, insisting on being alone all the while, dies. Jim’s sudden death
teaches Henry that friends can only do so much, but are equally important to
life as they are consistent pillars of strength that one can rely on. Later,
Henry becomes more of a man in the sense that he lies about the story behind his
head wound. This may seem awkward, but carefully looking at the situation Henry
learns the importance of one’s dignity and pride. He is aware that word
travels quickly and he saves himself from humiliation and tells a small white
lie so that his dignity is preserved. Towards the end of the novel Henry
discards the expectations of his peers and declares his individuality and
courage by seizing the flag from the dead color sergeant and waving it in front
of the regiment. He risks being shot at – as he is an easy target – and thus
displays his courage and willpower. This seizing of the flag is Henry’s
ultimate rite of passage. He discards his terrified and cautious childhood and
becomes an experienced, courageous individual. In conclusion, Henry’s rite of
passage is, generally, the Civil War. It teaches him the hardships of life and
draws out the courage deep down within his soul. Henry, at first, is timid and
anxious about his potential and what would the others think about him. Later, he
ignores everything around and focuses on the Union flag. His reaching out for
the flag proves to himself that he is just as brave and courageous as those
soldiers whose stories dazzled him as a boy. He is that very soldier.
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