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The Hidden Meaning
The Red Badge Of Courage is more than just a story about a boy who
goes off to war. It’s a story about how we grow up and eventually find our
true identity in life. Stephen Crane accomplishes this in The Red Badge Of
Courage by using symbolism throughout the story. Certain characteristics are
hidden within each soldier to help express the theme that Crane is trying to
express to his readers. There were many hidden symbols throughout the
story, but some of the most important ones were found in the soldiers
themselves. The 4 most important aspects of symbolism I felt were found in
Henry, Jim Conklin, Wilson, and the tattered soldier. Each soldier seems to
represent its very own aspect of mankind.
Henry Fleming is characterized as a shy and timid boy, who has been
kept under the wing of his mother, all his life. Crane gives good insight into
this when Henry is about to leave for the army. Henry’s mother is talking
about Henry never being away from home and that he should still be good
even though mom won’t be there to watch him (5).
I feel that Henry was trying to break free and become a man so he
joined the army. But when he has the chance to actually show his manhood,
he breaks down and becomes scared. During his first battle, he decides to
run. Crane gives us a clue to what Henry thought while he was running, “He
conceives the impression that it is better to view than to be merely within
hearing” (36). I think that means, that it was better to be far away and still
alive rather than in the battle itself and end up dead. There was no shame in
Henry’s face while he ran. I think Crane is trying to use Henry’s fear to
symbolize how a real person would feel. People tend to relate more to
someone that cries real tears, sheds real blood, and shows fear rather than
some fake superhero. Eventually, Henry does overcome his fear and
becomes the man he had been searching for all along.
Another soldier that had great symbolism in the story was Jim Conklin.
I found a little bit of irony alone, in just his initials. Jim’s initials are J.C. ,
which also could stand for Jesus Christ. He was the symbol of a perfect
soldier. He taught the other soldiers to find the good in a person and served
as a major role model. When Jim dies, he dies very quietly and at peace. I
think his death definitely symbolizes the nature of Jim. He was always quiet
and pretty much the forgotten soldier. He didn’t want his death to play a
major part, he just wanted to die quietly and on his own, just like his
personality. I feel that he didn’t want to burden his friends with the guilt of
his death. Crane describes this when the soldiers want to help Jim, but Jim
refuses by telling them over and over to “Leave me-be-dont tech me-leave me
be” (50). I feel that Crane was symbolizing Jim as a kind, caring, man who
enjoys helping others, and wants to maintain peace with everyone.
Another important symbol in the story was definitely the “tattered
soldier”. I think the tattered soldier represents the pain that every soldier was
feeling, both physical and emotional pain. I think the tattered soldier in
general typically represents all the bad things that can happen to a soldier
during the course of war. Henry had envied the tattered soldier because he
had been injured and Henry had not. Henry felt ashamed because he did not
have his own red badge of courage. I think the tattered soldier also
symbolized the human aspect to endure and persevere when times get tough.
Most people tend to find some motivation inside of them, that helps them to
keep going and make it through. This is exercised in the following passage
from the tattered soldier.
“Oh, I’m not goin’t die yit. There too much dependin’ on me fer me t’
die yit. No, sir! Nary die! I can’t! Ye’d oughta see the swad a’ children I’ve
got, ar’ all like that” (52).
The tattered soldier symbolized to me that no matter how beaten and
worn out your body is, its actually your heart and soul that really decides if
you want to live or not.
The last important area of symbolism I found, was in Wilson. He
seemed to have two sides of himself. A
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The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane, Crane, Henry VI of England, Shakespearean histories
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