Themes And Symbols In “The Red Badge Of Courage”

2177 words - 9 pages

“The Red Badge of Courage” was written by Stephen Crane in 1985 as a fictional tale of a soldier of the Civil War. With its accurate depictions, readers were led to believe that Crane had at one time been a soldier. This was however not the case. Crane has a unique way of using themes and symbols in “The Red badge of Courage” to relay a very realistic portrayal of war.
“The Red Badge of Courage” is often referred to as being based off of the Civil War Battle of Chancellorsville. This battle occurred April 30-May 6, 1863 in Spotsylvania County, Virginia (Civilwar.org). An interesting fact I found about this battle was that Stonewall Jackson was wounded on May 2, 1863 by his own men (Civilwar.org). This is an interesting tidbit of information because, as it will be discussed later, the main character of the story, Henry, is also injured by one of his fellow soldiers.
There are four main themes to me in “The Red Badge of Courage.” These themes are courage, personal growth and maturity, self-preservation, and nature. The theme of courage is what this story is all about really. What is courage? Who has courage? I want courage. How does one obtain courage? This is what Henry wonders and eventually figures out after having a misunderstanding of what bravery and courage was to begin with though. “His self-pride was now entirely restored. In the shade of its flourishing growth he stood with braced and self-confident legs, and since nothing could now be discovered he did not shrink from an encounter with the eyes of judges, and allowed no thoughts of his own to keep him from an attitude of manfulness. He had performed his mistakes in the dark, so he was still a man” (Crane 78). Henry feels that because the other men are giving him praise, then he is right in his behavior. But is this courage? Absolutely not. As Henry marches from battle, the reader is led to believe that he now knows that courage does not come from the opinions of others, but how he acts when others are watching, and more importantly when they aren’t watching.
The theme of personal growth and maturity is largely present in Crane’s “The Red Badge of Courage.” The quote that depicts this most clearly is “He suddenly lost concern for himself, and forgot to look at a menacing fate. He became not a man but a member. He felt that something of which he was a part—a regiment, an army, a cause, or a country—was in a crisis. He was welded into a common personality which was dominated by a single desire. For some moments he could not flee, no more than a little finger can commit a revolution from a hand” (Crane 31). As Henry began to mature in his first battle, he realized that being a part of something bigger than himself was more important than focusing on himself and only his needs. The ending passage of the story reflects to the reader just how far Henry has come from being a boy to becoming a man. “He felt a quiet manhood, nonassertive but of sturdy and strong blood. He knew that he...

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