The Red Badge of Courage Study Guide

The Red Badge of Courage By Stephen Crane

The Red Badge of Courage takes place over the course of a single unnamed conflict set in the midst of the American Civil War. Eighteen year old Henry Fleming, over the course of the story, grows from a frightened and ineffectual boy into a courageous and powerful man.

On the morning of his first real fight, frightened to go into battle and predetermining the battle to be a lost cause, Henry Fleming deserts his battalion and escapes into the forest. There, he meets a group of injured men, one of whom asks Henry where he is wounded. Henry is deeply embarrassed that he has no wounds, and avoids them by running deeper into the forest. Ultimately, he decides that going AWOL was the right decision, and that he is a small part of the army that is responsible for saving Henry Fleming.

When news reaches him that his battalion actually won the battle, deep guilt sets in, and Henry makes his way back to his battalion. Along the way, he comes across a fleeing regiment and grabs an artilleryman and demands to know what is going on. The man hits Henry in the head and keeps running. When Henry finally makes it back to his battalion, the other soldiers believe his injury to be caused by a bullet grazing his head in battle, and he does nothing to correct them.

The next morning sees Henry going into battle again. This time, while looking for a stream from which to get water, he learns from the army's commander that his particular regiment has a poor reputation: the commander seems almost eager to sacrifice Henry's group as they are nothing more than 'mule drivers' and 'mud diggers'. There are no other regiments to spare, so the commanding officer orders Henry and his regiment forward. In the climactic battle, Henry, knowing what is at stake for himself, his regiment, and the war in total, finds the courage to become one of the best fighters in his battalion as well as the flag bearer, finally proving himself and becoming a man in the eyes of his battalion, his regiment, and most importantly, himself.

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