Changes in Character Has it ever appeared that a person has no control over the events that change their life? Has their brain ever thought things it was not supposed to think and their body done things it was not intended to do? In Stephen Crane s The Red Badge of Courage, Henry Fleming is in this situation. In the first half of the novel Henry acts as though he has no control over his life; however, halfway through the story he gets a second chance, and his view on life changes allowing him to develop control over his actions. In the beginning of The Red Badge of Courage Henry Fleming does not make his own choices. This can be seen within the first two chapters. Henry dreams of the thrills of battle, enlists, and soon after realizes he did not like war and never wanted to join (Shulman The Red 79). There could be many reasons for his enlisting, however, he probably enlisted for reasons along the lines of teen rebellion. Henry, a young man, still lived with his parents, and thus still followed their rules. This was his chance to show his parents, more specifically his mother, that he was a man and could make his own decisions (The Heroic 1). Once Henry leaves for battle he regrets his decision even more. His regiment marches everyday and he, along with his companions, complain about the marching and wonder why they are not doing anything productive, such as fighting (Crane 34). However, unlike his companions Henry was distressed. He wondered if he will flee when the battle begins, and he asks his fellow soldiers how they felt and whether or not they had envisioned themselves running once the battle began (Crane 36). They all replied that they had not and this torments Henry even more. He tells himself that he will not run yet he cannot shake the idea of running. They wait for their chance to fight and finally the moment comes. His regiment goes to the battlefield, and the question still lingered in Henry s head. Suddenly a wave of Confederate soldiers rushed toward them, and Henry sees his comrades fall in battle. Some of the men fled yet he stayed, and they repelled the enemy. This was their first taste of battle, and they were proud of their victory. Henry was also proud, not only of their victory, but also of overcoming his fears. Then a second wave came, larger than the first, and at the sight of this he and many of his companions fled. Henry did not desire to leave the battlefield, he wanted to stay and fight and remain victorious with his fellow man, however something drove or rather forced him away (Shulman Community 66). This unusual series of events gives Henry a second chance and a new outlook on life. Once Henry abandons his comrades, he wanders around and feels guilty about his actions. He also begins to wish that his comrades would lose the battle. This is because if they lost, he would not be considered a coward, but rather an intelligent warrior. It would have seemed that he fled already knowing what was going to happen (Stephen 1). Henry continued to wander through the forest for several hours before finally going back into the open. He saw some troops walking at the bottom of the hill, and he went to find out what the outcome of the battle had been. As he got closer, he noticed that these men were wounded, and from the number of them they had probably been severely beaten on the battlefield. Henry went down the hill with high spirits, a feeling he had not had since he was home (The Heroic 2). He asked one of the men what the outcome of the battle was and the man proudly explained that the North had been victorious. This angered Henry and he began to wander through the field of wounded men. He found one of his friends who had obtained a real wound, and they walked together for a while. His friend slowly died before his eyes, and Henry felt guiltier than ever before (Shulman Community 66). This showed him the true horror of war, and now Henry felt that he must return to his regiment and tell what had happened to their friend (Shulman The Red 79). He did not know where he was going, and soon he ran into another dying soldier. Henry knew the injured man would slow him down, so he left the dying man alone in the middle of the woods. He wandered around looking for his regiment in order to tell of what had happened to their friend. He found a group of soldiers running and grabbed the last man. He asked him if he knew where he could find his regiment. The man claimed he did not know and when Henry refused to let go of his arm he hit Henry with the butt of his rifle. This created a large gash on Henry s forehead and left him unconscious on the ground. This was Henry s red badge of courage (The Heroic 3). Rather than it being a sign of honor and bravery, it was a symbol of Henry s cowardice and shame. He had earned it in a battle with a fellow Union soldier in a skirmish that took place outside of battle instead of receiving it in the heat of battle. When Henry got up, he made his way towards the woods where a cheerful soldier confronted him (Crane 65). The man asked Henry what was wrong and if he could help. Henry told him what regiment he was a member of and that he had gotten lost. The cheerful soldier asked no further questions and informed Henry that he knew where he could find his friends. Henry followed the cheerful soldier who seemed to have a divine power in finding his way through the forest (Shulman Community 67). The cheerful soldier leaves Henry with his friends and exits with a handshake and the statement Good luck ol boy (Shulman The Red 79). This remark shows the changes that Henry had made thus far and how he is leaving the age in which he was a boy and passing into manhood. In saying boy it shows that Henry is still a child, yet the use of the word ol helps to show that he will not be a child for much longer. The warm and strong handshake placed at the exact center of the novel gives Henry a newfound confidence in himself and helps to show him that everything will be alright (Shulman Community 67). When Henry reenters the camp his colleagues welcome him back and ask where he has been. He is too tired to think of an excuse, and they assume that he was grazed by the bullet and left for dead. Henry manages to tell them of their friend who died before he retired for the night. This brings back bad memories; however, Henry is still glad that he is in good company, and that they welcomed him back.
Soon they went back into battle, and Henry was determined to right the wrongs of his previous battle experiences. Just before departing Henry and his friend, the loud soldier, prevent a fight between two other soldiers, a fight that they would have instigated several days before (French 72). The battle has made them more mature and responsible. The troops went to battle, and Henry and the loud soldier led the way. The Union color sergeant was shot, and Henry grabs the flag to keep it from touching the ground. Throughout the rest of the battle, Henry shows his patriotism, and his newly discovered courage by carrying the regiment s colors and later by capturing the Confederate s flag. Because of this, their superiors promote Henry and the loud soldier to the rank of major general (French 72). Henry s peers congratulate him for his promotion and for the moment he forgets his past mistakes. Henry then helps to lead the troops in a charge to force the enemy back. This time Henry is running towards the battle leading the troops instead of running from battle and leaving them behind (The Heroic 2). This is the complete opposite of what happened at the beginning of the novel, showing that now Henry attacks his fears head on rather than running from them. Afterwards, they emerge victorious, and this time Henry is there to experience the victory. He is not ashamed of his previous acts yet he is not proud of his accomplishments in battle. He now acts like a veteran instead of the youth he used to be (French 73). The two seem to balance each other out and the story ends leaving Henry at peace with himself (Stephen 2). Henry started the novel as a victim of his lack of control over his own actions yet in the end his is the victor, controlling the hostile forces of before (Stephen 2). Henry may have started out acting for reasons beyond his control; however, in the end, he is a hero. At first Henry appears to have no control over his life, however, halfway through the novel life gives him a second chance, and he makes the most of it controlling not only his own actions but also influencing the lives of others. In life every one receives a second chance to right their previous mistakes, and those who take advantage of these opportunities will find themselves more at ease than they were before.