The Red Badge of Courage

Pdf fan
Tap here to download this LitChart! (PDF)
Flags Symbol Icon
By definition, flags are symbols of something else, such as a state or country. In Red Badge, battle flags symbolize the opposing armies. More importantly, they represent a soldier's need to believe in his army and in the war itself. The flag transcends individual concerns and represents the soldiers as a collective force. The political symbolism of Civil War flags is mostly absent from Red Badge. Instead, they are compared to beautiful colorful birds. Flags in Red Badge are symbols about symbols, about the abstract causes for which soldiers put their lives on the line. When he takes over as flag-bearer, Henry is safeguarding all of the symbols that hold his world together.

Flags Quotes in The Red Badge of Courage

The The Red Badge of Courage quotes below all refer to the symbol of Flags. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Courage Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Penguin Classics edition of The Red Badge of Courage published in 2005.
Chapter 19 Quotes
Within him, as he hurled himself forward, was born a love, a despairing fondness for this flag which was near him. It was a creation of beauty and invulnerability. It was a goddess, radiant, that bended its form with an imperious gesture to him. It was a woman, red and white, hating and loving, that called him with the voice of his hopes. Because no harm could come to it he endowed it with power.
Related Characters: Henry Fleming (the youth)
Related Symbols: Flags
Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:

Henry is here deeply inspired by the presence of his army's flag. The flag is held high, leading the soldiers into the battle. Moreover, the flag acts as a rallying point, and a symbol of the soldier's courage and idealism. Henry is especially drawn to the flag: he thinks that his duty as a soldier is to fight for his flag.

Crane both admires and questions Henry's idealistic love for the flag. Soldiers fight and die for all kinds of reasons--their country, their religion, their families, etc. Henry, ever the idealist and the Romantic, seems not to have a good, deep reason to fight in battle. Instead, he fights for the flag itself, rather than the many things the flag symbolizes (country, political ideology, the actual Union cause, etc.). Henry's relationship to the flag is depicted in almost erotic language--the flag is like a beautiful woman, to whom Henry is drawn. For not the first time in the book, Crane portrays Henry's experiences battle in strange, almost sexual terms. 

A+

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other The Red Badge of Courage quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
Chapter 23 Quotes
The youth's friend went over the obstruction in a tumbling heap and sprang at the flag as a panther at prey. He pulled at it and, wrenching it free, swung up its red brilliancy with a mad cry of exultation even as the color bearer, gasping, lurched over in a final throe and, stiffening convulsively, turned his dead face to the ground.
Related Characters: Henry Fleming (the youth), Wilson (the loud young soldier, the youth's friend)
Related Symbols: Corpses, Wounds, Flags
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Henry and his "friend," Wilson, compete to capture their opponents' flag, a symbol of the Confederate cause itself. Although Henry wants to claim the Confederate soldiers' flag as a prize, Wilson gets there first. Wilson, noticing that the enemy flag-bearer is mortally wounded, wrenches the flag free.

Crane contrasts Wilson's savage exultation with the pain and misery of the dying flag-bearer. War is a zero-sum game: for every victory that one soldier savors, another soldier is murdered. Wilson, overcome with enthusiasm for his fellow soldiers and his cause, doesn't stop to notice the dying soldier. He seems to have no respect for the soldier's humanity--after all, the soldier is his enemy, a faceless being he's been taught to hate. In encouraging soldiers to pursue glory and heroism, Crane suggests, war forces soldiers to surrender their natural sympathy for other human beings.

Get the entire The Red Badge of Courage LitChart as a printable PDF.
The red badge of courage.pdf.medium

Flags Symbol Timeline in The Red Badge of Courage

The timeline below shows where the symbol Flags appears in The Red Badge of Courage. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
Courage Theme Icon
The War Machine Theme Icon
Youth and Manhood Theme Icon
Noise and Silence Theme Icon
In the distant smoke, Henry sees a Union battle flag fall over. Suddenly, a mob of blue soldiers retreats through the woods, running away from... (full context)
Chapter 5
Nature Theme Icon
...scene around him. A battery of artillery guns is lobbing shells overhead. The Union battle flag flies again over distant troops. And to Henry's astonishment, the sun shines brightly in the... (full context)
Chapter 19
Courage Theme Icon
The War Machine Theme Icon
Youth and Manhood Theme Icon
Noise and Silence Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
...time. The lieutenant, Henry, and Wilson all scream at the men to push on. Their flag obediently gets moving again and the men follow. Running nearby, Henry feels a deep love... (full context)
Courage Theme Icon
The Living and the Dead Theme Icon
...sees the color sergeant get shot and stumble. He and Wilson each lunge for the flag and they tug it away from the corpse's firm grasp. (full context)
Chapter 20
Courage Theme Icon
Henry and Wilson scuffle to carry the flag, each wanting to put himself at greater risk. Henry pushes Wilson off roughly. (full context)
Courage Theme Icon
The War Machine Theme Icon
...and desperate fight breaks out at close range. Henry sits on the ground with the flag, consoled only that his regiment will go down fighting. (full context)
Chapter 22
The War Machine Theme Icon
Noise and Silence Theme Icon
...again into the field. Henry stands in the middle of the new fighting with the flag still over him. (full context)
Chapter 23
Courage Theme Icon
The War Machine Theme Icon
...reckless and unselfish. Henry runs in front of the men of his regiment, carrying the flag and shrieking encouragements. (full context)
Courage Theme Icon
...run away. However, a handful of determined enemy soldiers remain behind the fence with their flag waving above them. (full context)
Courage Theme Icon
Youth and Manhood Theme Icon
Noise and Silence Theme Icon
The Living and the Dead Theme Icon
...regiment stops and fires a devastating volley at close range. Henry sees that the enemy's flag bearer is mortally wounded. Henry wants that flag for himself as a prize. But Wilson... (full context)
Courage Theme Icon
The War Machine Theme Icon
Youth and Manhood Theme Icon
...talks of battles and outcomes, yearning for news. Settling down behind the fence with their flags, Henry and Wilson congratulate each other. (full context)