Stephen Crane’s literary technique has long been a matter of great interest, analysis, and speculation. In The Red Badge of Courage Crane takes us into the life of a young man named Henry Fleming, who wants to enlist in the United States Army and fight in the war against the South. By using irony, similes, and symbols, to name a few, Crane ”paints” a vivid picture of what life was like for the fragile Henry Fleming. He opens our eyes to the vast reasons of separation for Fleming, and why he lived his life so independently.
The precarious, vulnerable, and insecure Henry Fleming was isolated from more than just his family and his regiment; he was isolated from himself. As the narrative, The Red Badge of Courage, opens, Henry and his mother are engaged in a quarrel about Henry leaving to join the Army. By going against his mother’s wishes and disobeying her, he isolates himself from his family. This isolation is imperative to the way Henry lives his life during his time in the Army. Moral support is something that a family, especially a mother, provides for a child, but because Henry has disassociated himself from his mother, he neglects to receive this.
This moral support is needed during the hard times of battle, but when Henry looks for this support, he realizes that he’s pushed it away, far out of his life, and that it is almost imperceptible. Thus revealing the first isolation in Henry Fleming’s life. During war, a soldier’s most important support system is his/her regiment. This is a support system that Henry has, then loses throughout this time period in his life. All through the war Henry questions his courage and bravery.
He wonders if he will turn and run when death is looking him in the eyes, or if he will decide to stay and do what he came to do; prove that he is a man and can handle even death itself. During battle several soldiers are wounded earning their ”red badge of courage” and Henry’s confident, Jim Conklin, dies. Here is where Henry’s second isolation, the isolation from his regiment, occurs. The soldiers in the regiment feel a certain pride and respectability from earning their ”red badge. ” Henry didn’t earn this sense of pride and respectability because of the abandonment of his fellow soldiers.
He felt that his assumption was clearly rectified- he was a coward. Henry Fleming seemed to become the virtuoso of separation, individualism, and isolation. The tension is eased after he mistakenly ”earns” his ”red badge” from a friend. The internal fears that haunt Henry are mostly created by himself. He is apprehensive of the reaction he will have towards any stimulus thrown out at him, therefore creating a fear that separates and isolates him from not only the rest of his regiment and his family, but himself as well. He is afraid to face reality and see what really makes up Henry Fleming.
Throughout the majority of this narrative Henry is torn between the boy he is and the man he wants to be. The man emerges through a brief handshake with the ”cheerful soldier. ” This handshake is the turning point for the value Henry places on himself. The handshake shared between the ”cheerful soldier” and Henry, swings him back into the warm community of men. These men, Henry’s regiment, can be looked at as the saving grace of Henry’s self-confidence. Regardless of the isolation from his family, the isolation from his regiment, and the isolation from himself, Henry matures over the course of the narrative.
He becomes unified with his fellow comrades and his regiment, puts the dispute with his mother aside, and faces his fears and doubts. Stephen Crane, author of The Red Badge of Courage summarizes this gradual and significant process with this vivid sentence: ”Over the river a golden ray of sun came through the hosts of leaden rain clouds. ” This sentence, the last sentence in the novel, hits the reader the hardest. It points out that becoming what we want to become, like it did Henry, takes time and continuous effort.