The Underlining Fights
Since the beginning of man there has been wars, battles, and conflicts. Men have fought for land, power, money, and beliefs. Some have been considered great war heroes while others have died in vein. War is not all about death and carnage, about land and power. It is about ones beliefs, ones soul. But war is not always fought on the battle field. It sometimes lies in oneself. In the books, All I Asking For Is My Body, by Milton Murayama and The Red Badge of courage, by Stephen Crane, the central characters fight the battle against tradition, their own bodies, and the growth inside themselves.
The main characters Henry and Kiyo, fight the war of tradition with themselves and the characters around them. In the book, All I Asking For Is My Body, Kiyo struggles with the Japanese tradition. Kiyo’s mother is a perfect symbol for what the Japanese traditions and beliefs are. She believes in “filial” sons. The sons should work for the parents until all debts are paid off. She says, “‘ Look at Minoru Tanaka, Hidero Shimada, Kenji Watanabe, Toru Minami, They’ve been working for their parents for over ten years, and they never complain’” (30). Kiyo struggles with the ideas of being a “filial” son or taking control of his own body. His own self. He chose his own self and in listed in the war. A chose he felt he had to make. Murayama writes,
When I got home from work that day I said, “I volunteered.”
I shrugged. “It can’t be helped.” (97)
In The Red Badge of Courage, Henry also struggles with tradition. His tradition is not of a cultural tradition but that of a soldiers tradition to be brave and honorable. Unlike Kiyo turning his back on the “filial” son and Japanese traditions, Henry longs to become that traditional solder. Crane writes, “[Henry] had, of course, dreamed of battles all his life – of vague and bloody conflicts that had trilled him with their sweep and fire. In visions he had seen himself in many struggles” (174). Crane character, Jim Conklin is who Henry models as the perfect traditional soldier. Jim is strong willed and fights as good as the next man. Even when injured, Jim was the perfect courageous solider. Crane writes, “[Jim] became again the grim, stalking specter of a soldier. He went stonily forward. The youth wished his friend to lean upon him, but the other always shook his head and strangely protested” (213). The first battle that Henry encounters he runs. He tries to justify it by saying he was saving his life. But the next battle he fights like a “lion.” The rage of his friend’s death pulses inside of him and he fights like the traditional soilder.
In addition to the fight of tradition, both Kiyo and Henry fight for their bodies. In All I Asking For Is My Body, Kiyo is fighting his body which is a symbol of his freedom. He wants to be free to live his own life and not be stuck working on the plantation for the rest of his life. He felt like a slave that was stuck on the plantation forever. Kiyo says, “The War was going to last forever and martial law froze us to our jobs forever. Everything was exploding in the rest of the world while we were like some prehistoric monster frozen in ice” (94). The six thousand-dollar debts that his parents have accumulated over the years is also keeping Kiyo’s body as a prisoner. Kiyo’s struggle with the dept is highlighted in the fight between Kiyo’s brother Tosh and his mother. Murayama writes,
‘[Tosh] you’re full of selfishness. You’re not a Japanese.”
‘All I’m asking for is my body. I’m not even asking for a high school education.’
‘Every child must repay his parents.’
‘How long? How much?’ (57)
Kiyo is finally free when he enlists in the war and wins the six thousand dollar debt. Kiyo writes a letter to his brother Tosh with the money. This letter sets Kiyo and Tosh’s bodies free. Kiyo writes, “Won this in crap game. Pay up all the debt Take care the body. See you after the War” (103).
Henry is also fighting for his body in The Red Badge of Courage however, Henry’s body is a symbol of pride not freedom. After he fled from the first battle, Henry meets up with the tattered soldier. He is envious of the man because of his wounds. To Henry a wound is proof of courageous behavior. It is a sign of honor. Crane writes, “[Henry] wished that he, too, had a wound, a red badge of courage” (212). Henry’s fight for his body also lies in the fight to be treated as a hero. He uses his body to become a hero. He won the respect of his fellow soldiers by lying about the wound on his head. He said that it was a gun shot wound but is was really by a retreating soldier on his own side.
Also the two characters are fighting the battle inside themselves, the battle to become men. At the beginning of All I Asking For Is My Body, Kiyo is an innocent, young child. He does not understand why his teacher was getting mad at the class for working during the strike. He does not understand that for the strike to work all groups have to get involved. Kiyo just thinks that he is making easy money. After being called a “scab” by his teacher, Kiyo answers, “‘The point is the Filipinos don’t want anybody else to join them. They ask a raise only for themselves. They not mad at us. They mad only at
other Filipinos who scab, not us. We not scabs to them” (33). However, as the story unfolds, Kiyo is able to understand the fights of men. He leaves his family to go off to war even though his parents do not want him to. He becomes a man that can think for himself and make his own thoughtful decisions. He has learned not to listen to everything his mother has told him and not to blow up like his brother Tosh does. Murayama writes, “I couldn’t blow up like Tosh, but I’d learned not to jump at her bait. Once upon a time I’d have yes, just to reassure her and shut her up.” (97).
Henry also goes through the same transition form boyhood to manhood that Kiyo underwent. Henry’s transition happens over a period of two days. At the beginning of the story he wrestles with the idea of fleeing when he is finally able to fight. Crane writes, “It had suddenly appeared to him that perhaps in a battle he might run. He was forced to admit that as far as war was concerned he knew nothing of himself” (178). In his first battle he did run. He was worried about saving his life. During the second battle however, Henry transforms into a courageous soldier and fights like a lion. The lieutenant calls out to Henry, “‘By heavens, if I had ten thousand wild cats like you I could tear th’ stomach outa this war in less’n a week!’” (244). After this battle he is about to look forward to a life of happiness and tranquility. He is able to look forward to manhood.
The real war In the Books, All I Asking For Is My Body and Red badge of Courage, is not fought on the battlefield, it is not fought between mother and son it is fought within the dynamic characters Henry and Kiyo themselves. Henry and Kiyo fight a war against many opponents. They fight a war against tradition and what is expected of them. They fight a war against their own bodies and their importance. They also fight a war against their own growth and prosperity. But whatever struggles they have