The Red Badge of Courage

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Wounds Symbol Icon
For Henry, wounds are a "red badge of courage" to show off like a Purple Heart medal—the modern military award given to soldiers wounded in combat. Henry wants a wound to prove that he fought bravely and sacrificed himself. But wounds in Red Badge are not that simple. They reveal the flip side of Henry's romantic ideas: the grim reality of war wounds. For example, after he's wounded, Jim looks like his whole side had been "chewed by wolves." Wounds reveal the ironies of war, too: when Henry gets his own wound, it comes when a fellow Union soldier strikes him with a rifle butt to get Henry out of his way. Henry then must lie to his regiment about the wound's origin. Wounds also don't have to be physical. The tattered man reflects Henry's internal wounds—his guilt for running away and abandoning people.

Wounds Quotes in The Red Badge of Courage

The The Red Badge of Courage quotes below all refer to the symbol of Wounds. 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 9 Quotes
At times he regarded the wounded soldiers in an envious way. He conceived persons with torn bodies to be peculiarly happy. He wished that he, too, had a wound, a red badge of courage.
Related Characters: Henry Fleming (the youth)
Related Symbols: Wounds
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

In this famous passage, Henry begins to wish that he had sustained a wound of some kind. A wound, he feels, would prove to everyone else that Henry has indeed fought bravely in battle, rather than running away from the fray like a coward.

Throughout the novel, there's a conflict between internal heroism and external signs of heroism. Henry continues to believe that true heroism means being recognized for one's heroism--in other words, being respected because of external wounds sustained during battle. But as we've come to see already, no external sign can prove one's courage under fire. Henry might appear to be brave because he stands his ground during a battle, when in reality he's just paralyzed with fear. In all, then, Henry's desire for a "red badge" reflects his perverse attraction to the brutality of war: as much as he 's frightened by battle, he's also almost masochistically drawn to danger because of his ideals of courage and sacrifice.

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Chapter 10 Quotes
The simple questions of the tattered man had been knife thrusts to him. They asserted a society that probes pitilessly at secrets until all is apparent. ... [H]is crime ... was sure to be brought plain by one of those arrows which cloud the air and are constantly pricking, discovering, proclaiming those things which are willed to be forever hidden.
Related Characters: Henry Fleming (the youth), Tattered man
Related Symbols: Wounds, The Tattered Man
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, the Tattered Man berates Henry with questions about his war wounds. The Tattered Man wants to know where Henry has been wounded--a question that Henry hates, because it reminds him that he's a coward, and doesn't have wounds of any kind on his body.

The Tattered Man, we come to see, is an externalization of Henry's own guilty conscience. Just as Henry comes to despise himself for his own lack of courage during the battle, the Tattered Man continues to "attack" Henry with probing questions that reiterate Henry's cowardice. Henry desperately wants to be perceived as a brave man by his fellow troops, but the Tattered Man's questions suggest that Henry is a long way from being celebrated for his bravery. Ironically, Crane describes the the Tattered Man's questions in harsh, militaristic language ("knife thrusts," "arrows")--even though Henry has fled from the literal battle, he's entered into a metaphorical "battle" for recognition.

Chapter 12 Quotes
The fight was lost. The dragons were coming with invincible strides. The army, helpless in the matted thickets and blinded by the overhanging night, was going to be swallowed. War, the red animal, war, the blood swollen god, would have bloated fill.
Related Characters: Henry Fleming (the youth)
Related Symbols: Wounds
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:

In this vivid passage, Henry faces the horrors of war once again. The passage is a great example of how Crane casts war as a character in its own right, independent of all political and ideological conflicts. War is like a wild animal, hungry for dead bodies and blood. By personifying war itself, Crane reiterates the point that war destroys both sides: for all the lofty ideals of the Union and Confederate troops, both sides will be equally devastated by the conflict. While in this particular case it's the Union troops who are under attack, Crane makes it clear enough that the Confederate soldiers will be "swallowed up" themselves sooner or later--the "red animal" of war doesn't play favorites.

Chapter 13 Quotes
"Yeh've been grazed by a ball. It's raised a queer lump jest as if some feller had lammed yeh on th' head with a club."
Related Characters: Henry Fleming (the youth)
Related Symbols: Wounds
Page Number: 80
Explanation and Analysis:

Here Henry comes to realize that the wound he sustained from the butt of a rifle is being interpreted as a gunshot wound--i..e, a sign of genuine courage. Henry finally has the "Red badge" he's been craving--an outward sign of his bravery.

As the passage makes clear, Henry continues to feel some guilt about his cowardice. Even though the other soldiers perceive his injury as a gunshot wound, they acknowledge that it looks like he's been clubbed (which, in fact, he has). Henry seems close to being found-out--his wound fools the other soldiers, but just barely. In all, the passage reinforces the point that there can be no external proof of bravery--even if other people regard you as a hero because of your wounds, true bravery comes from within.

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.

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Wounds Symbol Timeline in The Red Badge of Courage

The timeline below shows where the symbol Wounds appears in The Red Badge of Courage. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 8
Courage Theme Icon
The Living and the Dead Theme Icon
Henry runs into a column of bloodied wounded soldiers returning from the front. One laughs and sings hysterically; another complains about their general;... (full context)
Courage Theme Icon
Youth and Manhood Theme Icon
The Living and the Dead Theme Icon
Walking along, Henry is approached by a dirty, tattered man with two wounds in his head and arm. The tattered man tries to strike up a conversation about... (full context)
Chapter 9
Courage Theme Icon
Youth and Manhood Theme Icon
Henry tries to blend in with the wounded soldiers. But after the tattered man's questions, he feels like they can perceive his guilt.... (full context)
Courage Theme Icon
Youth and Manhood Theme Icon
The Living and the Dead Theme Icon
...He stares into Jim's paste-like face and, when Jim's jacket falls away, sees Jim's awful wound. Agonized and enraged, Henry shakes his fist back at the battlefield. (full context)
Chapter 10
Courage Theme Icon
Youth and Manhood Theme Icon
The Living and the Dead Theme Icon
...describes Henry as looking pretty bad and warns him to take care of his own wound, one that might be inside, one that he might not even feel. The tattered man... (full context)
Chapter 12
Courage Theme Icon
The Living and the Dead Theme Icon
Henry collapses in pain from the bleeding wound on his head, struggling even to crawl. He imagines somewhere safe he can collapse and... (full context)
Chapter 13
Courage Theme Icon
The corporal inspects Henry's wound and concludes that he's been grazed by a bullet, finding "a queer lump jest as... (full context)