Essay Based on Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage
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.
. . .
Copyright (c) 1998 by Gemma Truman
| back to essays |
I dare say that this is one of the best essays based on literature that I have written so far. My American Literature teacher was impressed, which is simply a great thing. Reading the novel was a bore, but, heck, the themes were so universal that writing about it was a piece of cake. Suggestion: Read the book if and only if you can't get out of it, of if the other choice is something by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Yawn.