The Red Badge of Courage

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Red Badge is a study of courage and fear, as seen in the shifting currents of Henry's thoughts and actions during the battle. Henry begins the story with youthful romanticized ideas about courage from the classical tradition: in particular, the heroic ideals found in the ancient Greek epic poem the Iliad by Homer. In the Iliad, warriors mingle with gods, die gloriously, and enjoy everlasting fame. But the tremendous violence of the Civil War unsettled these notions of courage and glory. The soldiers in Red Badge, especially Henry and Wilson, begin to doubt their naïve versions of courage when faced with battle. Instead, they discover a grittier and more complicated form of courage. And they only discover it after the fact: during Henry's most courageous moments in battle, he is hardly aware of anything except heat, noise, anger, and the mechanical repetition of firing. Even when courage is present, it's not really there. So what is courage?

Courage takes many forms in the novel, none of which are stable. Wanting to find a lasting form of courage, Henry hopes for a wound or "red badge of courage" to wear. Taking it to the extreme, Henry daydreams about a glorious death. But is courage self-destructive? Is it a performance for others, or for yourself? Does it happen when we're not thinking about it? Henry seeks answers from himself and from the soldiers around him, including corpses and the wounded. Though the story may provide no clear answers, it offers several perspectives: Jim Conklin, Wilson, and the lieutenant each offer different versions of courage to compare with Henry's. Perhaps there is courage in Jim's willingness to see things pragmatically, or in Wilson's acceptance of his limitations, or even in Henry's deep self-questioning. In the end, the reader must decide about courage—who has it, and even whether it's good or bad.

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Courage Quotes in The Red Badge of Courage

Below you will find the important quotes in The Red Badge of Courage related to the theme of Courage.
Chapter 1 Quotes
He had burned several times to enlist. Tales of great movements shook the land. They might not be distinctly Homeric, but there seemed to be much glory in them. He had read of marches, sieges, conflicts, and he had longed to see it all. His busy mind had drawn for him large pictures extravagant in color, lurid with breathless deeds.
Related Characters: Henry Fleming (the youth)
Page Number: 5-6
Explanation and Analysis:

Here we're introduced to Henry Fleming, a young man who feels a strong desire to fight in the war with the Southern states of the Union. Henry has been brought up to believe in the timeless code of honor and heroism--to be a mature man, he believes, is to be willing to fight for one's country and sacrifice one's life when necessary. Henry has developed such a philosophy over years of reading books, such as the ancient Greek epics of Homer, and also reading newspaper stories about the military's clashes with its opponents.

Henry is at once hopelessly naive and desperate to become a man. He thinks that manhood is a question of bravery and courage--and yet he naively thinks that he'll be able to prove his manhood as soon as he arrives on the battlefield, not realizing how distinctly "unheroic" and dehumanizing modern warfare has become.

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Chapter 2 Quotes
He finally concluded that the only way to prove himself was to go into the blaze, and then figuratively to watch his legs to discover their merits and faults. He reluctantly admitted that he could not sit still and with a mental slate and pencil derive an answer. To gain it, he must have blaze, blood, and danger, even as a chemist requires this, that, and the other.
Related Characters: Henry Fleming (the youth)
Page Number: 13
Explanation and Analysis:

Henry is nervous about fighting in an actual battle--he senses that his desire for courage won't translate into actual courage once the fighting starts. Henry's thought process is complicated and full of contradictions. He tries to force himself to admit the truth: there's no way to prepare oneself for battle, only the reality of the battle itself. Henry begins to think of himself as a mere pawn or specimen in the war: like a chemical sample for a scientist, he'll be exposed to different stimuli (such as danger and violence) and react accordingly.

Henry's analogy between himself and a chemical sample is unnerving because it suggests that Henry doesn't respect himself as a full human being: he's content to be a mere cog in the army, ordered around by his superiors. He's so young and immature that he takes no responsibility for his own actions--he's just waiting for the right stimuli to control his behavior. At the same time, his detachment from his own sense of courage shows a kind of maturity, or at least a willingness to question himself relatively impartially.

Chapter 4 Quotes
The battle reflection that shone for an instant in the faces on the mad current made the youth feel that forceful hands from heaven would not have been able to have held him in place if he could have got intelligent control of his legs.
Related Characters: Henry Fleming (the youth)
Page Number: 33
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Henry is in the midst of a battle. He's surrounded by danger--indeed, many of his fellow soldiers have turned and run away from the oncoming Confederate troops. And yet Henry doesn't run. He's frightened by what he sees, and yet he continues to stay and watch the enemy soldiers march toward him.

Is Henry being brave in this scene? Crane suggests exactly the opposite--Henry would be running from the Confederate danger, except that he's paralyzed with fear (a good example of the "flight or fight" reaction). In general, then, the passage underscores the reality that courage cannot be measured in any concrete, external way. Henry's behavior might look like bravery to an outside observer, but in reality Henry is just as afraid as the troops that are running away.

Chapter 6 Quotes
Into the youth's eyes there came a look that one can see in the orbs of a jaded horse. His neck was quivering with nervous weakness and the muscles of his arms felt numb and bloodless. His hands, too, seemed large and awkward as if he was wearing invisible mittens. And there was a great uncertainty about his knee joints.
Related Characters: Henry Fleming (the youth)
Page Number: 41-42
Explanation and Analysis:

Henry has already fought battle, "bravely" standing against his Confederate opponents. But when the Confederates come back again, Henry suddenly feels weak and frightened. He's withstood his first challenge as a soldier, but now that he has a second opportunity to prove his bravery, he sees the utter futility of bravery itself. Fear seems to break down Henry's entire body: Crane describes him as an old, "jaded horse" whose knees and arms are slowly losing all their strength.

The individual is meaningless in battle: a single soldier like Henry will merely be worked again and again until his body gives out, or until he's murdered by a Confederate opponent. In all, Crane uses the passage to convey the total dehumanization of war.

Chapter 7 Quotes
He had fled, he told himself, because annihilation approached. He had done a good part in saving himself, who was a little piece of the army. ... It was all plain that he had proceeded according to very correct and commendable rules. His actions had been sagacious things. They had been full of strategy. They were the work of a master's legs.
Related Characters: Henry Fleming (the youth)
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:

In this important passage, Henry has just deserted his army--he's been so frightened by the arrival of more Confederate troops that he's run away from the fighting altogether. Here, safe from battle for a moment, Henry tries to justify his own actions. There was no chance that he could have survived the fight, he tells himself--the very futility of the battle is proof that running away was the logical thing, and even the "right thing," as he'll live to fight for his army again.

Henry's thought process is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it reminds us how childish his ideas about chivalry and bravery were--almost as soon as he found himself in an actual battle, his bravery failed him altogether. Furthermore, Henry's rationalizations of cowardice show him thinking in terms of individualism; in other words, he justifies his behavior by arguing that protecting his own life is the highest good. Henry's hypocrisy, of course, is that he's trying to pretend that he made a "choice" to run away. In reality, Henry didn't choose to run at all--his desertion was practically an involuntary reaction, in which logic played no part. Crane doesn't condemn Henry's actions, but he notes Henry's frantic rationalizations, too.

Chapter 9 Quotes
Because of the tattered soldier's question he now felt that his shame could be viewed. He was continually casting sidelong glances to see if the men were contemplating the letters of guilt he felt burned into his brow.
Related Characters: Henry Fleming (the youth), Tattered man
Related Symbols: The Tattered Man
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:

In the previous chapter, a "tattered man" asks Henry if he's been wounded. Henry, knowing full-well that he wasn't wounded at all (since he ran from the battle) immediately feels guilty. As he walks along with the other soldiers, many of whom do have horrific wounds sustained during the battle, Henry feels that everyone is judging him for his cowardice--he thinks that his desertion must be obvious to everyone else.

Of course, there's little chance that anyone else really realizes that Henry ran away--on the contrary, Henry's stigma of guilt is totally internal; he remains so fiercely loyal to the principle of courage and heroism that he feels ashamed, and assumes that he looks like a coward. Thus, the passage makes an important point: Henry has seen some horrifying things in battle, but he continues to believe that fighting with one's fellow troops is the right thing to do. His belief in the value of courage and heroism can't be stripped away so easily.

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.

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 11 Quotes
As he watched his envy grew ... Swift pictures of himself, apart, yet in himself, came to him—a blue desperate figure leading lurid charges with one knee forward and a broken blade high—a blue, determined figure standing before a crimson and steel assault, getting calmly killed on a high place before the eyes of all. He thought of the magnificent pathos of his dead body.
Related Characters: Henry Fleming (the youth)
Related Symbols: Corpses
Page Number: 67
Explanation and Analysis:

Henry continues to buy into the fantasy of "glorious death," a subject that Crane has already debunked with his harsh, detached descriptions of meaningless battles in an indifferent universe. Henry, in spite of his past cowardice, still aspires to be a brave soldier. Or rather, Henry aspires to be seen as a brave soldier--the recognition of his peers is so important to him that he imagines his own corpse displayed before "the eyes of all."

The passage strongly suggests that Henry's desire for military glory is still just an immature daydream, a manifestation of his own insecurity about his manhood. Henry thinks he wants to die, but he also wants to savor the pleasure of being remembered as a brave soldier--much like Tom Sawyer, he wants the ghoulish pleasure of attending his own funeral and listening to his peers praise him for his heroism.

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 14 Quotes
The youth took note of a remarkable change in his comrade ... He seemed no more to be continually regarding the proportions of his personal prowess. He was not furious at small words that pricked his conceits. He was no more a loud young soldier. There was about him now a fine reliance. He showed a quiet belief in his purposes and his abilities.
Related Characters: Henry Fleming (the youth), Wilson (the loud young soldier, the youth's friend)
Page Number: 86
Explanation and Analysis:

After fighting in a battle, soldiers often experience drastic changes of personality or emotional state. They stop trying to show off and prove their bravery, and accept their own limitations as human beings. Wilson, a friend of Henry's who was initially loud-mouthed and testy, has become docile and calm with his peers, reflecting the fact that he's been in serious danger in battle. Henry, in spite of his apparent war wound, is much the same as he was before the war--despite his delusions of worldliness and military experience, he hasn't really been changed by his experiences in battle (just as Henry's wound isn't really a war wound at all, just an imitation of one). Wounds and "red badges" are no replacement for genuine experience and self-realization.

Chapter 15 Quotes
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.
Related Characters: Henry Fleming (the youth)
Page Number: 90
Explanation and Analysis:

In this chapter, Henry regains some of his self-confidence. In their first battle, Wilson had desperately given Henry letters that he'd written to his loved ones back home, in the event that Wilson was killed in battle. Remembering Wilson's "cowardice" now makes Henry feel more confident--because he interprets Wilson's actions as cowardly, he feels better about his own acts of cowardice (and feels that he has "insurance" against Wilson if Wilson should ever try to discover the truth). Indeed, Henry tries to delude himself into believing that it wasn't cowardly at all to run from the fighting--instead of facing his mistakes and learning from them, he ignores them and confines them to "the dark." Henry's immaturity is surer than ever: no true soldier could believe himself to be heroic for such shallow reasons--ironically, Henry's total confidence in his own heroism is a sure sign of his inexperience as a soldier.

Chapter 17 Quotes
It was revealed to him that he had been a barbarian, a beast. He had fought like a pagan who defends his religion. Regarding it, he saw that it was fine, wild, and, in some ways, easy. ... [H]e was now what he called a hero. And he had not been aware of the process. He had slept and, awakening, found himself a knight.
Related Characters: Henry Fleming (the youth)
Page Number: 101
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Crane illustrates the shallowness of heroism. Henry has been firing his gun with great energy and intensity--he's in the midst of a great battle, yet he's also in something like a trance state. Delirious with fear, Henry doesn't realize that he's firing his gun at all--as a result, Henry continues firing long after the enemy has retreated. Henry's peers interpret his actions as heroic, and applaud his courage.

The shallowness of Henry's heroism is overwhelmingly obvious--Henry didn't even realize that he was being heroic; he has to be told that he was acting like a "barbarian." The irony is that Henry has aspired to be recognized for his bravery--now that his dream has come true, he's too dissociated to enjoy it, and disappointed by how "easy" it was. Henry is still very much a young, immature man, but here he learns yet another lesson about the nature of courage and heroism.

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. 

Chapter 23 Quotes
The mob of blue men hurling themselves on the dangerous group of rifles were again grown suddenly wild with an enthusiasm of unselfishness ... they were in a state of frenzy, perhaps because of forgotten vanities, and it made an exhibition of sublime recklessness.
Related Characters: Henry Fleming (the youth)
Page Number: 132
Explanation and Analysis:

In this passage, Henry and his fellow troops prepare to charge against the Confederate troops. To Henry's great surprise, his fellow soldiers are incredibly brave and intimidating--instead of being overcome with fear of death, they yell and charge recklessly, proving their courage.

Crane is halfway between praising the soldiers' heroism and describing it as meaningless, almost inhuman. He notes that the soldiers have surrendered their selves to battle--in other words, they're not concerned with their own safety, their own fears, or even their own thoughts. They've consented to be mere gears in the war machine. Crane characterizes the soldiers' former individuality as "vanity," as if the desire to save one's own life is just a childish delusion that can be "cured" with military service. Crane also seems to criticize the soldiers' actions with less-than-romantic terms--he characterizes them as a mob, suggesting that in rising to the challenge of battle, the soldiers have surrendered their own humanity.

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.

Chapter 24 Quotes
He felt a quiet manhood, nonassertive but of sturdy and strong blood. He knew that he would no more quail before his guides wherever they should point. He had been to touch the great death, and found that, after all, it was but the great death. He was a man.
Related Characters: Henry Fleming (the youth)
Page Number: 139
Explanation and Analysis:

In the final chapter of the novel, Henry comes to terms with his own insignificance in the world. At first, Henry craved recognition from his fellow soldiers--he derived his self-worth from his peers' respect and admiration. But gradually, Henry has come to think of heroism in a much different sense. It is futile, he realizes, to pursue glory in battle--no single soldier can ever be more than a "drop in the bucket" of the war effort--there's no room for an Achilles or a Hector in the Civil War. Instead, Henry believes that he can attain heroism by accepting his own place and developing a quiet strength within himself.

Paradoxically, in denying his own importance, Henry rises to true maturity: he becomes a man. Critics have often debated whether or not Crane intended the passage to be ironic or not--Henry's acceptance of his own smallness could certainly be interpreted as cynical or resigned, but here it's also portrayed rather optimistically, as he thinks of his future. Perhaps Crane's real point is that, good or bad, accepting one's personal limits is a "coping mechanism" to which all soldiers must resort sooner or later.