Hidden Courage

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 10th grade November 2001

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In The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, Henry's courage gradually comes to life as he learns to leave his individualism behind. Throughout the story, Crane refers to Henry as "the youth." By doing so, Crane sets him apart from the other men. As Henry leaves home, his mother's discouragement casts a "yellow light upon the color of his ambitions" (4). Henry's youth and inexperience cause him to question what he would do in the heat of battle. He is unsure about his courage and searches for assurance from other men in his regiment.

Jim Conklin, another soldier in Henry's regiment, tells Henry, "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 no mistake" (10). Jim's words comfort Henry. Jim is a tall, tough soldier, and Henry reasons that if it is okay for Jim to run, then it is okay for any man to run, including himself.

Henry's regiment is soon faced with serious danger in battle. Henry finds himself caught up in the middle of the chaos. "He suddenly lost concern for himself, and forgot to look at a menacing fate. He became not a man but a member" (32). Henry feels like he has become a part of something much larger than himself. He is willing to risk his life for the feeling of belonging and unity.

In another battle, Henry remains with his regiment and helps them overcome the enemy. Henry discovers how to suppress his individualism in order to survive. Henry finally finds his place in his surroundings. He no longer feels as if he does not belong.

By shedding his individualism, Henry matures from "the youth" to a man. After his experiences, he has a better understanding of his abilities and himself. "Over the river a golden ray of sun came through the hosts of leaden rain clouds" (131). The "yellow" light of cowardice Henry experienced in the beginning has turned into a "golden" ray of courage, opportunity, and promise of a bright future.