The Red Badge of Courage Short Summary
“The Red Badge of Courage” authored by Stephen Crane narrates the story of a teenager by the name Henry Fleming, who joins the Union Army in order to fulfill his dreams of grandiosity. The following is a summary.
The General Plot Overview
Shortly after joining the Union army, Henry Fleming discovers more about his personality. The boredom, horrors, and the utter injustice of war reveal his best and worst tendencies.
At first, he is very frightened about fighting his first battle. He even tries to make other soldiers admit that they are equally scared. However, they all seem to be fully confident, and this leaves Fleming feeling worse about himself. Just before his first battle, he witnesses a gruesome corpse for the first time.
In the meantime, the reader is introduced to two other characters, Wilson and Jim Conklin. Fearful Wilson hands Henry letters to send back to his family. On the onset of the war, Henry fares well on his first round of fighting, but on his second battle, he runs for the hills. Later on, Henry convinces himself that it was just a survival instinct. Henceforth, he shifts between episodes of grandiose feelings and those of immense guilt.
As Henry makes his way back to the battlefield, he meets wounded soldiers retreating. Witnessing their injuries, he longs for a red badge of honor. When one soldier asks where his injury is, Henry becomes fearful that he might be discovered. Suddenly, Jim horrendously dies right in front of him. As he tries to run away, one of his men knocks his head with a gun in frenzy. Amazingly, Henry survives with 303 other men. This offers him relief that nobody will accuse him of running away.
When Wilson and Henry meet again, Wilson fearfully asks for his letters. Henry now feels superior to him and uses the feeling to justify his running away from the battle. He boldly criticizes the general for poor tactics. In the next battle, Henry ferociously fights and receives praise from the lieutenant.
However, after hearing one of the general’s criticisms of the soldiers, he is more determined to prove himself. In the subsequent battle, he manages to capture the union flag. Later on, Henry helps his regiment to victory, and he captures the Confederate flag.
After the war, Henry reviews his past actions and admits to his initial cowardice. Now, he views himself as a hero that has overcome the red sickness of battle.