The Red Badge of Courage

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The War Machine Theme Icon
Youth and Manhood Theme Icon
Noise and Silence Theme Icon
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The Living and the Dead Theme Icon
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Courage Theme Icon

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 ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Courage appears in each chapter of The Red Badge of Courage. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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