Tuesday, March 9, 2010

What is Courage? -- According to the Red Badge of Courage, Part 2

Continued from the last post...


Before finding his way back to his regiment, Henry has the opportunity to receive such a badge; however, it is phony. When he is banged on the forehead with a rifle by someone on his side, he tells his comrades that it is a “battle wound”; that he had been shot by the enemy. He uses it as a cover-up to conceal the fact that he ran from battle, making it look like he had been fighting as much as they had been. After his friend fixes up the wound, he says, “Yer a good un, Henry. Most 'a men would a' been in th' hospital long ago. A shot in th' head ain't foolin' business.” Henry doesn't reply to this. Clearly, Henry has his comrades fooled; and impressed. They not only believe his story, but think highly of him because of it. They think he is courageous. But Henry knows the truth, and still feels just as guilty as before.

With this knowledge still in mind, Henry goes to battle again the next day; and partially because of the shame and frustration of the day before, works himself into a battle frenzy. Consumed with hate for the enemy, he continues firing and firing; even after the enemy is gone. Finally someone brings him back to reality, as if waking him from a dream, by telling him there's nothing left to shoot at. His lieutenant notices what he did with pride. “The lieutenant... called out to the youth: 'By heavens, if I had ten thousand wild cats like you I could tear th' stomach outa this war in less'n a week!' He puffed out his chest with large dignity as he said it.” Judging by the lieutenant's words, Henry had been quite a sight indeed. Suddenly, he was being noticed for something he had really done – not for a fake battle wound. His comrades notice, too: “Some of the men muttered and looked at the youth in awestruck ways... They now looked upon him as a war devil.” From this quote, we can see that Henry fought savagely, and yet his comrades admire him for it.

Henry's confidence builds from this event: “These incidents made the youth ponder... By this struggle he had overcome obstacles which he had admitted to be mountains. They had fallen like paper peaks, and he 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.” These words show us that Henry had finally become what he thought he could never be: a courageous hero.

In the following battle, Henry proves himself again; and his bravery is noticed not only by the lieutenant, but by the colonel. Although he wears an “ingenuine” badge of courage, he soon become worthy of it. He proves to himself, and to others, that he can be brave; that he can step forward in the face of danger and not shrink back.

In The Red Badge of Courage, courage is defined as conquering fear without succumbing to it. First, it is defined by Henry when he does the opposite of being courageous by running away. Second, it is defined by the brave, wounded soldiers who stay in the battle so long they are injured and, in many cases, killed. Third, it is defined by Henry again, when he finally finds his courage and faces his fear without turning away. From Henry Fleming, we can gain that courage is often a worked-at gift. It does not always come naturally or immediately; but sometimes it needs time and cultivation before it can blossom into maturity.