Flag Power In The Red Badge Of Courage

1204 words - 5 pages

Flag Power in The Red Badge of Courage

 
    Henry Fleming, after receiving his red badge of courage‹a blow to the head‹takes over the role of color-bearer during a vicious combat. As he sees his comrade sink to the ground in pain, he fights with his friend Wilson for the esteemed position of flag-bearer and finally wrenches the Union colors from the grasp of the dying man. With the flag in hand, Henry feels immediately empowered; the ubiquitous symbol of freedom and courage invests him with his own power and valiancy as he rushes headlong towards the enemy lines. Stephen Crane's continuous reference to color in The Red Badge of Courage, manifests itself outright in his few ...view middle of the document...

After this description of the flag and his affinity towards its symbolism, Henry runs away from the troops. Immediately before he scampers towards the back of the line and away from his regiment, Crane describes the flag as "sometimes eaten and lost in this mass of vapor, but more often, it projected, sun-touched, resplendent" (31). The flag, throughout, is described as something holy and divine; however, Henry sees this and then "into the youth's eyes there came a look that one can see in the orbs of a jaded horse. His neck was quivering with nervous weakness and the muscles of his arms felt numb and bloodless" (31). Henry's sudden feeling of fear and hatred for the war cause him to lose himself "in this mass of vapor." The flag, though described with glory, is the first symbol that drives Henry to distraction.

 

As he berates himself for escaping the regiment, Henry again thinks of the flag and feels even more fear of battle. By observing his feelings about the symbolic colors, Crane markedly presents his awakening fear and then descending empowerment throughout the novel's chronology. In this instance, Henry thinks of the flag and wishes for death. "If the army had gone gloriously on he would be lost. If the din meant that now his army's flags were tilted forward he was a condemned wretch. He would be compelled to doom himself to isolation. If the men were advancing, their indifferent feet were trampling upon his chances for a successful life" (50). The idea of the flags being tilted towards battle frightens Henry to distraction due to his desert of his party. He knows that if the flags were demonstrating a continuation into battle, he would forever be marked as a deserter, a pathetic soldier of abandoned manhood. The symbol of the flag leading the troops to war, invokes a fear and awe in him which is contrasted with his return to the regiment, where he struggles to redeem himself through bearing the flag.

 

Running like a football player, Henry approaches the flag of the enemy and sees his own colors and, within him, "was born a love, a despairing fondness for this flag...it was a creation of beauty and invulnerability. It was a goddess, radiant, that bended its form with an imperious gesture to him." Crane continues to write, "It was a woman, red and white, hating and loving, that called him with the voice of his hopes. Because no harm could come to it he endowed it with ...

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