Many great literary novels have the protagonist, the main character of the novel, being portrayed as the "hero". There are many different deeds and actions that can characterize a person as a hero such as saving someone from a burning house at the risk of one's own life. The main distinguishing characteristic of a true hero is self-sacrifice, whether it be scarifice of your own personal desires or ideals or sacrifice of physical well being to help others. There are a few novels in which the main character of the work does not exemplify the deeds and thought of a true hero. Two such works include Stephen Cranes' The Red Badge of Courage and Ernest Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms.
Both The Red Badge of Courage and A Farewell to Arms have war as the background of the story. War is the perfect setting in which one can be tested to see if he or she is a hero. This idea is the major framework of The Red Badge of Courage, in which Henry Fleming aspires to be a man, a "hero" in the eyes of the masses by enlisting in the army. Henry's goal of returning a man from war has already marred his image of being a potential hero because his thoughts are about himself and not about the welfare of others. Also, the fact that he wants to impress people and appear heroic is a selfish aspiration. Heroes act not to impress others but to help them. Usually the actions of a hero are impulsive and not premeditated because the hero does what he/she believes is right and what their heart tells them is right and not what others judge is right.
In The Red Badge of Courage, Henry is preoccupied about whether or not he's going to run when it comes time to fight. After the second skirmish, the readers find out that he does indeed run from battle but that's not what makes him a non-hero. It's the fact that he tries to rationalize and justify his running. He says that his running is "... not a fault, a shameful thing; it was an act obedient to a law." He also uses nature to justify his running such as when he throws something at a squirrel and it runs away. He's also egotistical when he says that his running away was done with "dignity" as compared to the others who ran like cowards. To make matters worse, after Henry is rejoined with his regiment, he lies about getting separated from the regiment and with the aid of a fradulent head wound, his story is not questioned by others. But Henry's mind is always full of thoughts of how to save himself embarrassment that he even stoops to thinking about blackmailing his friend Wilson with the packet of letters that were given to him. "He now rejoiced in the possession of a small weapon with which he could prostrate his comrade at the first signs of a cross-examination."
Another instance in which Henry acts unheroically is in the desertion of the tattered soldier. Henry could be juxtaposed to the tattered soldier to show how a hero should act. Unlike Henry who is always thinking about his self image, the tattered soldier, although he is shot and hurt himself, asks about Henry's well being. But when the tattered man asks Henry, "Where yeh hit?", Henry gets nervous that he might be labeled as a coward for not having a wound that justifies that he did fight and so he gives the tattered man the slip. When the tattered soldier meets Henry again at the place where both witness Jim Conklin's strange death, he asks about Henry's hurt again only to be chided with "Oh, don't bother me." Then Henry deserts him again and leaves him to wander helplessly in the fields.
Henry Fleming could still be labeled a hero if he changes at the end and learns from his experiences. But at the end of the novel, he's still as self-absorbed and egotistical as he was before. When the battle is over and they're marching home, Henry is informed that one of their fellow soldiers, Jimmie Rogers is dead, Henry doesn't really give it much thought but goes right on