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An Incomplete Hero in The Red Badge of Courage

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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.

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Not Quite a Hero. (2018, Jun 12). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 7, 2021, from
“Not Quite a Hero.” GradesFixer, 12 Jun. 2018,
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