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To Flee or Not to Flee?
The greatest shame for any man is to receive a harangue by comrades calling him/her a coward. In The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, this is exactly what the main character, Henry Fleming, does his best to defer. One of Henry’s serious moral dilemmas was that he fled from a battle during the Civil War for selfish reasons. He realizes that it was a big mistake to desert them and the guilt that accompanies it almost compelled him to tell his unknown comrades, but he decides not to because he does not want to be a coward.
In this novel, the moral dilemma actually changed a couple times, and there was a social dilemma almost all the way through the novel. The moral dilemma, at first, was whether Henry would flee from his regiment. Then it turned into should he tell his friends what really happened and suffer the disgrace. The last moral dilemma was about how Henry treated a fellow soldier known as the Tattered Soldier. The social dilemma was being a coward, and an outcast.
In the beginning of the novel, Henrys' friend, Jim, brought back news that the regiment was going to attack the enemy Henry started to wonder if he would stay and fight or would he flee like a mouse? He started to ask some of his friends what they would do. One of his friends, Wilson, had a narcissistic attitude towards the war and life in general and a quick temper. When Henry asked him, he was enraged by the stupidity of his friend, “[A]nd I didn’t say I was the bravest man in the world, neither. I said I was going to do my share of fighting—that’s what I said. And I am, too. Who are you, anyhow? You talk as if you thought you was Napoleon Bonaparte” (Crane 18). Henry asked Jim the same question. But, Jim’s response was different than Wilson’s, “I’ve thought it might get too hot for Jim Conklin in some of them scrimmages, and if a whole lot of boys started and run, why, I s’pose I’d start and run. And if I once started to run, I’d run like the devil, and make no mistake. But if everybody was a-standing and a-fighting, why, I’d stand and fight. Be jiminey, I would” (10).
Henry decided that the only way he would ever solve this dilemma would require him be in a battle. After fighting he would then see how he would react, “He finally concluded that the only way to prove himself was to go into the blaze, and then figuratively to watch his legs to discover their merits and faults” (11). What Henry did not expect, though, was another and even more powerful dilemma stemming out of the first.
When the time comes to fight the regiments first battle, Henry does not desert his regiment as he had worried about, “For some moments he couldn’t flee” (33). Thus, he can allude a logical conclusion about his dilemma being over, “The supreme trial had been passed. The red, formidable difficulties of war had been vanquished” (37). Yet in actuality, his problems have just begun. The next battle Henry faces he and a few others from his regiment “run like rabbits” (39) because they thought that the regiment would have been annihilated. Later, he realizes that what he did was a mistake and regrets running and becomes suicidal, “He now thought that he wished he was dead. He believed that he envied those men whose bodies lay strewn over the grass of the fields and on the fallen leaves of the forest” (60). Henry considers himself a coward for deserting those brave men who fought to the best of their ability and won.
Henry starts to wander the forest he’s in, and eventually comes across a Tattered Soldier, and later, his friend, Jim. The Tattered Soldier was really nice to Henry and tried to start a conversation, but Henry was to engrossed with his problems that he treated him very brashly. A little while later, he realizes that the person next to him is his friend Jim. Henry and the Tattered Soldier watch Jim die a slow death, causing Henry great
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Dilemmas, The Red Badge of Courage, Ethical dilemma, Social dilemma
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