Henry Fleming (the youth) Character Analysis
Wilson (the loud young soldier, the youth's friend)
Henry Fleming is a young private who volunteered for the infantry against his mother's wishes. Having "dreamed of battles all his life," Henry has romantic notions of war influenced by Greek classics such as the Iliad. These ideas of war are challenged by his actual experiences with war. Henry's resulting psychological turmoil is the focus of the narrative, especially his anxiety about lacking the courage to fight. Henry's emotions are never settled: after he flees from battle, Henry is overcome by guilt and self-pity; when he shows courage under fire, he recovers his pride. Within a few short days, he transforms from a hot-headed, idealistic young boy into an experienced soldier who feels like a grown man. Over the course of the story, Henry tries out many philosophical approaches to discover his individuality and place within the war, as if searching for answers to the question he asks at one point: "Why—why—." In the face of gruesome casualties and the chaos of war, Henry also struggles to interpret symbols such as the flag for meaning. But their meaning keeps changing, and Henry flip-flops between self-confidence and insignificance, between courage and cowardice. Henry seems mature by the end of the novel, but this may be just another moment of calm in a much bigger storm.
The The Red Badge of Courage quotes below are all either spoken by Henry Fleming (the youth) or refer to Henry Fleming (the youth). 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: Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Penguin Classics edition of The Red Badge of Courage published in 2005.).
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.
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.
Chapter 3 Quotes
The ranks opened covertly to avoid the corpse. ... The youth looked keenly at the ashen face. ... He vaguely desired to walk around and around the body and stare; the impulse of the living to try to read in dead eyes the answer to the Question.
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.
Chapter 5 Quotes
Directly he was working at his weapon like an automatic affair. He suddenly lost concern for himself, and forgot to look at a menacing fate. He became not a man but a member. ... He was welded into a common personality which was dominated by a single desire.
Under foot there were a few ghastly forms motionless. They lay twisted in fantastic contortions. Arms were bent and heads were turned in incredible ways. It seemed that the dead men must have fallen from some great height to get into such positions. They looked to be dumped out upon the ground from the sky.
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.
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.
He was being looked at by a dead man who was seated with his back against a columnlike tree. The corpse was dressed in a uniform that once had been blue, but was now faded to a melancholy shade of green. The eyes, staring at the youth, had changed to the dull hue to be seen on the side of a dead fish. The mouth was open. Its red had changed to an appalling yellow. Over the gray skin of the face ran little ants. One was trundling some sort of a bundle along the upper lip. ... The dead man and the living man exchanged a long look.
Chapter 8 Quotes
The battle was like the grinding of an immense and terrible machine to him. Its complexities and powers, its grim processes, fascinated him. He must go close and see it produce corpses.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
Chapter 21 Quotes
He discovered that the distances, as compared with the brilliant measurings of his mind, were trivial and ridiculous. The stolid trees, where much had taken place, seemed incredibly near. The time, too, now that he reflected, he saw to have been short. He wondered at the number of emotions and events that had been crowded into such little spaces.
Chapter 22 Quotes
A spluttering sound had begun in the woods. It swelled with amazing speed to a profound clamor that involved the earth in noises. The splitting crashes swept along the lines until an interminable roar was developed. To those in the midst of it it became a din fitted to the universe. It was the whirring and thumping of gigantic machinery, complications among the smaller stars.
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.
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.
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.
The timeline below shows where the character Henry Fleming (the youth) appears in The Red Badge of Courage. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The screaming mob of enemies approaches through the trees. Without waiting, Henry fires a first wild shot. As his regiment starts blazing away, Henry's individual anxieties disappear:... (full context)
The lieutenant collars a soldier trying to run away and beats him back into line. Henry sees several soldiers get shot, their faces looking betrayed, their bodies dropping into awkward poses... (full context)
...awesomely loud noise of new fighting, "like the grinding of an immense and terrible machine." Henry thinks that the earlier fight must have been nothing compared to this battle. Curious, Henry... (full context)
...and exhausted around the fire. Others have sunk into "death-like" sleep. Wilson gently cares for Henry, arranging his own blankets for Henry to sleep on. Henry falls gratefully asleep and "in... (full context)
...sleepy camp to life. Among the grumbling soldiers, Wilson tends the fire. When Wilson adjusts Henry's bandage, Henry lashes out in irritation, and Wilson offers him breakfast. When three soldiers nearby... (full context)
...soldiers. They are met with jeers and sarcastic questions from veteran soldiers still in reserve. Henry's regiment is insulted and angry, but Henry realizes that the distance they covered to the... (full context)
A "churchlike" silence descends just before the gunfire becomes a colossal roar. Henry's ears are overwhelmed. His regiment, depleted but ready, charges again into the field. Henry stands... (full context)