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Published: 10-11-2019

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The war psychology as depicted in The Red Badge of Courage

Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, 1 of the most well-known war novels of the 19th century, can also be analyzed outdoors of the trope of military literature and along a psychological route. Crane’s novel follows the journey of young soldier Henry Fleming and his struggle to develop from an immature vanity and intense egotism in the face of an uncaring and usually brutal physical reality of war and nature as well as the inevitability of death that comes along with it. In this view, the theme of nature’s indifference to human lives and the impact it has on Crane’s character ultimately marks a psychological warfare in addition a physical 1. Although the novel ends on an optimistic note that Henry has at last become a “changed man,” this paper seeks to argue that Henry’s modify from naiveté and vanity to an alleged maturity, particularly concerning death, is not a simple and thorough shift but as an alternative subtle and largely incomplete. Consequently, although readers can decisively point to physical examples of Henry’s military victories and heroics by the finish of the novel, his psychological battle can not be concluded as concretely. Henry’s shift, then, is illustrated as a complicated method with no exact “endpoint”: though his newfound psychological mindset of nature’s reality is self stated, Henry’s ultimate mental state can merely be observed as a mixture among his overwhelming egotism and the cold reality war has taught him. His change, for that reason, is not as 1 dimensional as the text would lead readers to believe.

From the onset of the novel, readers can immediately note Henry’s youthful naiveté and romantic conception of military life and war. Regardless of his mother’s ominous words, “I know how you are… you are jest one tiny feller amongst a hull lot of others,” (Crane eight), Henry takes a self-centered attitude into his military duties when it is clear that the reality of a soldier was just the opposite: totally indifferent to individuality. This viewpoint is summed up in the narrator’s words, “Whatever he had learned of himself was right here of no avail. He was an unknown quantity” (Crane eight). Furthermore, imagining a military life style of the Greek heroes of ancient instances, Henry considers himself individually worthy of focus and praise before his first battle even starts. The narrator states this mindset, saying, “He had burned a number of times to enlist. Tales of wonderful movements shook the land. They may not be distinctly Homeric, but there seemed to be significantly glory in them. He had study of marches, sieges, conflicts, and he had longed to see it all” (Crane 10). At the starting of the novel it seems as if Henry sees his tenure in the military as not a signifies to an finish (victory in the war), but an end in itself. Henry is portrayed as too immature to grasp the cold reality of what a career in war entails. Fearing actual duty and alternatively going out of his way so as to not appear cowardly to other soldiers, Henry is only concerned with his outward look to other individuals: duty is not as essential as the self-imagined glory and revelry that comes with just being called a soldier.

For example, this innate egotism that Henry initially takes into his enlistment is recounted in Crane’s sequel to the novel, in which Henry is looking back on his military profession. Henry describes his self centeredness, stating, “I believed they had been all shooting at me. Yes, sir, I believed every man in the other army was aiming at me in certain, only me” (Dillingham quoting Crane 195). The reality that Crane puts such an emphasis on Henry’s profound individual traits this early in the novel helps readers to see Henry’s encounter as a dual psychological war, rather than simply a physical 1. Moreover, this concentrate on Henry’s inability to accept the cold and indifferent characterization of war and society that plays so prominently in the rest of the novel serves as evidence of a customized inner battle that Henry faces: the reality that there is more to the war than physical heroism and valor.

Nonetheless, at a essential point in the novel Henry comes face to face with a microcosmic image of the inescapable reality not simply of the military, but of life in basic when he sees the corpse of a soldier in his regiment lying on the ground in the midst of a battle. This harsh image of the fleeting nature of life and negligence of nature operates to undermine the Henry’s personal delusional sense of self significance that he has held as a result far. Henry makes a connection to the cold indifference of nature to human beings as he notes soon after a battle, “It was surprising that nature had gone tranquilly on with her golden procedure in the midst of so significantly devilment” (Crane 52). In this larger sense, the soldier’s corpse, like nature’s sun, is simply a function in the landscape no human intervention or heroics can put a cease to man’s inevitable death. This brief moment of recognition illuminates the antithesis to Henry’s mindset: that physical illusions and appearances of glory do not matter he also will experience the inevitable fate of the dead soldier and the rest of the globe will continue, completely undisturbed by the event. In spite of Henry’s witnessing this sense of naturalism portrayed in war, the narrator notes the private level at which Henry notices this critical occasion stating, “…upon his face there was an astonished and sorrowful appear, as if he thought some friend had completed him an ill turn” (Crane 52 emphasis added). The narrator’s focus on the fact that Henry saw this universal theme, but did so completely in terms of himself—as if nature’s indifference to the soldier somehow was personally inflicted on him—is proof of how lengthy Henry had to travel on his route to the realization of this naturalism at work he still sees events solely in terms of himself.

The narrator later portrays Henry’s focus on death from the point of view that highlights this theme of the inconsequentiality of individuals, stating that the corpses “…lay twisted in fantastic contortions. Arms had been bent and heads have been turned in incredible techniques. It seemed that the dead males must have fallen from some excellent height to get into such positions. They looked to be dumped out upon the ground from the sky” (Crane 53). Once again, the choice of the words “dumped from the sky” specifically highlights nature’s comprehensive indifference for people, specifically throughout wartime. These lines again urge Henry to see past his idealistic view of self value. As observed by way of his personal eyes for the duration of this scene, though his comrades may well notice his death, nature certainly would not.

In spite of this moment of short epiphany, however, even although Henry actively participates in more military duties and battles, he continues to lie to these about him and hold his sense of vanity rather than accepting this naturalistic reality. This sense of egotism is highlighted in Henry’s continued delusions of private grandeur. Henry persists in seeing “…Swift photographs of himself, apart, however in himself, came to him—a blue desperate figure major lurid charges with 1 knee forward and a broken blade high—a blue, determined figure standing just before a crimson and steel assault, obtaining calmly killed on a high spot prior to the eyes of all. He thought of the magnificent pathos of his dead body” (Crane 84). Once more, these lines indicate that Henry nevertheless believes in the significance of his own death and a personal glory that he believes will come with it.

Maybe the most prominent indication that Henry nonetheless has however to grasp the reality of his own inconsequentiality is the incident in which he lies to his regiment about acquiring his own “red badge of courage.” Right after becoming accidentally struck by the butt-end of a gun by a member in his own regiment, Henry lies to his fellow soldiers, instead telling them that he had been shot. Crane emphasizes the cowardice of Henry’s actions, enabling readers to see his inability to transition from his egotistical former self. Crane refers to Henry’s lie about his injury, stating that he had now begun to put on “the sore badge of his dishonor” (Crane 58). The sheer importance that Henry puts on the thought of a battle wound is a testament to his mindset. Henry undoubtedly sees these badges of courage as proof of military glory that he so desperately seeks: a symbol not only of courage but also an whole worth program that nature ignores totally. Henry can not come to terms with the inconsequentiality of individual battle wounds or individuals in the grand scheme of war and reality in common.

According to critic John McDermott, this incident of Henry’s deceit more than a battle wound to get what he sees as “glory” is not just Crane’s description of a war-time occurrence, but an event that has meaning in Henry’s own individual psychological struggle. Additional, McDermott contends that Crane’s description of the incident it purposeful in describing the incomplete struggle and journey that Henry tends to make all through the novel in his inability to let go of his egotism and foolish military vanity. McDermott states,

The total symbol of Fleming’s wound, meticulously constructed by Crane in this central portion of the novel, hence becomes the principal device by which he manages to embody the complex development of his unsophisticated hero. If Crane had attempted to present also straight the necessarily confused thoughts of his rather inarticulate and intellectually limited character he may have… an unrealistic psychological portrait. But in its multiplicity his symbol is the ideal car to convey gracefully the complexities and ironies of his limited character’s psychological improvement (McDermott 327).

Consequently, agrees McDermott, Henry’s continued acts of selfishness in the face of his knowledge with nature’s cold reality—specifically the lie more than the red badge—illustrate that though Henry looks completely courageous and honorable on the outdoors, his lie holds significance in showing his character’s accurate disjunction in his individual “war” of improvement.

Many far more examples of this disjunction amongst Henry’s military advancement versus his psychological plateau happen all through the course of the rest of the novel, exactly where it appears on the outside that Henry is ultimately taking on further military responsibilities and accomplishments. Henry is fairly obviously becoming a veteran soldier and willingly throws himself into battle, seemingly unafraid of the dangers and threat of death that war carries. Nonetheless, Henry’s sense of vanity can't be shaken off. For instance, in one particular of the final battle scenes Henry highlights this inability to let go of his egotistical flaw when he overhears an officer saying that his regiment will most likely be lost in the upcoming battle. Henry takes excellent offense and shock in hearing his regiment referred to in such a marginalizing manner, thinking, “…the most startling thing was to understand suddenly that he was really insignificant. The officer spoke of the regiment as if he referred to a broom” (Crane 172). Henry then imagines that if this officer have been to see his corpse, it would somehow serve as the ultimate type of revenge for offering these comments. The narrator adds, “It was his idea, vaguely formed, that his corpse would be for these eyes as excellent salt reproach” (Crane 172). This passage is clearly indicative of Henry’s static mindset: he nonetheless foresees his death as substantial, believing it would have a profound effect on this officer—not realizing that it would much more than likely go largely unnoticed. Henry’s belief that his death would be important enough to impact an officer who does not even know his name reveals that he has not totally internalized the lesson located inside the naturalistic worldview that he briefly realized in his experience with the dead soldier in the first portion of the novel. Even though the narrator offers indications that Henry has at as soon as let go of his egotism in battle, main regressions such as the incident above show that Henry has been unable to expel his significant flaw.

By the conclusion of the novel, it is clear that Henry has established himself as a productive military veteran, risking his life and capturing the flag and prisoners of war from the enemy—something he feared and attempted to steer clear of at starting of novel. Ultimately, on the surface, it looks as even though Henry had produced the transformation from egotistical youth to selfless military veteran and courageous hero, a soldier accepting of his personal fate regardless of what it may possibly be. Henry’s thoughts on his new modify underscore this. For example, the narrator states that “It was revealed to him that he had been a barbarian, a beast. He had fought like a pagan who defends his religion. Concerning it, he saw that it was fine, wild, and, in some approaches, effortless. … [H]e was now what he called a hero. And he had not been conscious of the process. He had slept and, awakening, discovered himself a knight” (Crane 102). Though these lines appear to celebrate Henry’s new transformation, it is crucial to note the level of egotism hrough which Henry views this, seeing himself as “heroic” and “knightly.” Though he could have changed on the battlefield, his mental processes nevertheless look to be completely encompassed with the immature notion of a personal glory that war—and nature—does not afford to him. Adding to this argument, Dillingham’s “Insensibility in The Red Badge of Courage” states, “[Henry] has simply adapted himself via knowledge to a new and harmful atmosphere. When the last battle is more than, he is still the exact same prideful youth bragging on himself as he reviews his deeds of valor” (Dillingham 197).

In an additional instance, the narrator further illustrates Henry’s psychological shift at the end of the novel, stating, “His thoughts was undergoing a subtle change… Steadily his brain emerged to far more closely comprehend himself and circumstance” (Crane 183). Nevertheless, although Henry had indeed changed, this passage alone hints at the lingering effects of his narcissism, as his thoughts are still preoccupied with himself. Moreover, readers should be cautious in noting Henry’s “transition” so clearly. Rather than become this significantly transformed character, Dillingham states that “Otherwise, Henry remains primarily unchanged for the duration of the course of the novel. It is a error to feel of him as getting turn into rejuvenated through humility or in any way changed into a greater person morally” (Dillimgham 197). Dillingham’s statement adds to the argument that Henry’s subtle psychological modify is not equivalent to a struggle on the battlefield: there is no clear reduce outcome. Even though the novel ends on a sensationalized note, it is a error to interpret Henry’s shift in black and white language.

Once again, when the narrator describes Henry’s shift to an apparently “new” character, Henry’s egotism can be noted in the manner in which he still thinks. The narrator notes “for in [his memory] his public deeds were paraded in great shining prominence” (Crane 183). This focus on himself and his personal glory again shows that perhaps Henry’s youthful egotism hasn’t been totally erased. As the narrator states, his adjust was a “quiet… non-assertive manhood” rather than a ground-breaking (and maybe unrealistic) sort of reaction. Henry is undoubtedly changed at the novel’s conclusion, but the narrator’s note suggests a lot more of an optimism at the idea of alter, rather than the concrete change itself that is present. Henry’s method of adjust and maturity was not complete he nevertheless clung to fundamental elements of his egotism that showed that in matters of his own psychological warfare, he still had a long way to go.

By the novel’s conclusion, readers cannot define Henry’s alter one dimensionally, being aware of only that he falls somewhere on the thin gray line. This again reiterated by critic Eric Solomon, stating:



The novel ends on an ambiguous note: is Henry Fleming a hero manqué who has gained an outward semblance of courage by his battle exploits but who nonetheless shows the egotistic lack of moral integrity that forced his original act of cowardice and his later betrayal of the tattered soldier—a betrayal that he can't neglect even following his triumphs—and his lies? Or has the youth in fact matured by means of his war experience… (Solomon 111).

Solomon’s lines aid to show the distinction between the two “wars” at function. Henry clearly experiences military victories, evolving from his inherent worry of battle he initially had. Even so, his inner mental workings have not changed by such fantastic leaps and bounds. The existence of an outward shift in military accomplishment is not necessarily correlated with an inner development as well. As readers can see, Henry merely can't rid himself of his self centered significance in the face of a ruthless and uncaring planet about him.

Henry’s most important proof in illustrating that his psychological shift was, at ideal, incomplete, is Henry’s closing thoughts about death. The narrator states, “He had been to touch the wonderful death, and found that, after all, it was but the wonderful death. He was a man” (Crane 183). In these lines, Henry certainly still holds the notion of death in a high regard. He might have evolved in his ability to witness the event in the heat of battle, but Henry still perceives it as “great,” even right after numerous brushes with the overwhelming theme of its insignificance. Even though Henry may possibly not personally fear death by the novel’s conclusion, his inner perception and categorization have not really shifted. As McDermott contends, although, “As an author, [Crane] was willing to let The Red Badge of Courage stay ambiguous inside the artistic construct of the novel, the uncertainty adds a dimension of reality” (McDermott 324). Therefore, Henry’s inner maturity does not have to stick to his outward military development. At the novel’s conclusion, the greatest interpretation does not have to follow such a clear upward line of growth that it appears to assert on the outside. Henry’s complicated psyche is extremely fitting in categorizing not simply the mind for the duration of wartime, but psychological growth in common.

The conclusion of The Red Badge of Courage ends with what seems to be a clean cut theme in a young soldier’s maturity into a seasoned veteran who holds a vast amount of wisdom obtained from years in battle. Nonetheless, a close reading of the text shows readers that there is more than one war at perform in the novel. Although Crane undoubtedly portrays a tale of military struggle and ultimate accomplishment, Henry Fleming’s simultaneous psychological journey cannot be ignored. Crane’s underlying literary naturalism at work in the novel functions to show Henry’s complex struggle to realization and acceptance of nature’s indifference to his personal life and death—on the battlefield and beyond. Uniquely, Henry’s personal war of his inner psyche does not have a clear result as the 1 he experiences on the battlefield. Even though Henry describes his maturation into a man, readers must not neglect his own egotism that he has failed to expel. Therefore, in examining Crane’s dual war portrayed in The Red Badge of Courage, a single can not label Henry’s psyche as new or transformed the ambiguous conclusion only illustrates to readers the vast complexities in a war of moral proportions: with no winner or loser, one must fall someplace in among.
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