What defines a soldier? Do we define him by the way he runs through the battlefield, crushing his opponent, or how he finds himself leading the charge against a great, war machine? Does a hero redeem the hope of his regiment and keep fighting until his death? In Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage we see Henry Fleming, the protagonist of the novel, make himself into a soldier. In the first few pages, Crane portrays Fleming as a naïve young man wanting to go into battle solely for recognition. However, as the novel progresses we notice Fleming change from that naïve, cowardly, young man into a courageous soldier.
At first, Fleming does not understand what war can do to him. Fleming enjoys a sense of pride for joining the Confederate Army, blind to the true horrors of war.. “… They had thronged about him with wonder and admiration. He had felt the gulf now between them and had swelled with calm pride.” (9) Fleming only focuses on others acknowledging his so-called bravery even though he feels unsure if he can withstand a single battle. As Fleming fights in his first battle, his pride dissipates and turns into fear. “He ran like a blind man. Two or three times he fell down.” (44) Fleming morphs from a man who fills himself with self-importance to one who deflates with cowardice.
As the novel progresses, Fleming changes from a man who flees from battles, to one who remains until the enemy retreats. “Once he, in his intent hate, was almost alone and was firing, when all those near him had ceased. He was so engrossed in his occupation that he was not aware of a lull.” (100) Fleming no longer cowers in battle, but fights when all others cease. Fleming does not let his fear overpower him, but instead channels that fear into the battle. No longer does Fleming fear the enemy but the enemy may in fact fear him.
Lastly, we see Fleming transform from a cog in the military machine into the leader of his regiment’s charge. Fleming puts his life on the line for his regiment. During a battle, the color sergeant, the bearer of the flag, gets shot and killed. Both Fleming and Wilson rush towards the flag, wanting to demonstrate their selfless leadership“ ‘Give it t’ me!’ ‘No, let me keep it!’ Each felt satisfied with the other’s possession of it, but each felt bound to declare, by an offer to carry the emblem, his willingness to further risk himself.” (112) Fleming relishes guiding his regiment towards destruction of the enemy even as they risk all of their lives.
The protagonist of Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage, Henry Fleming, changes from a meek, naïve, cowardly soldier into a relentless fighter. Originally, Fleming has so much innocence. He does not understand what warfare can do to a man, nor how it can affect him. During his first battle, Fleming seems scared and unprepared and eventually finds himself sprinting from the battle field like a blind man. Slowly, Fleming develops into a soldier. He fights with passion and intense hatred, popping round after round into smoke and continues to fight even in utter silence. Finally, we see Fleming develop into a courageous soldier. He takes the flag from a dead mans hands, and leads his regiment further into battle, even though bullets fly past him he continues to charge, when in the beginning of the novel he would have fled. Fleming proves that he no longer serves as a cowardly boy, only wanting recognition for simply enlisting, but into a truly brave soldier who puts his regiment before himself.