Monday, March 8, 2010

Historical Fiction

In The Red Badge of Courage the main character, Henry Fleming, deals with an issue that plagued many soldiers in the Civil War: the thought of abandoning their post once fighting commenced. Henry is forced to face his greatest fear once word reaches that his regiment is to march which Henry knows will lead to battle. Henry was not alone in his fears of death as many soldiers did abandon during the Civil War. Throughout the book the question of abandonment and courage are questioned by Henry until he finds his own answer.
During his regiments march to battle, Henry hears fighting in the distance and starts to panic. When they finally do reach the battleground and assemble for battle, Henry becomes trapped in the regiment’s formation and knows that there is no escaping this battle, no chance for him to abandon. After a victory the troops celebrate and Henry relaxes enough to take a nap. When he is awoken from his nap another regiment is about to attack his own regiment and he feels certain doom and flees. The burden of what he believed to be certain death was too much for him to bear. Again this book brings you into the mindset of a soldier who abandons because he believes he does not have the courage required.
Once he has fled the battlefield Henry found himself wandering in the woods trying to convince himself that the men who remained were fools that were about to meet their match. He comes across a dead soldier that frightens him even more so he changes direction and ends up finding a line of wounded men marching. He thinks to himself about how all these men had the red badge of courage, bandaged wounds to prove they were courageous in battle. He finds a comrade who has been terribly wounded and promises to take care of him only to watch him leave the line to die. Another wounded soldier keeps asking Henry of his injury as Henry has now joined the line of wounded men. The wounded soldier and Henry break from the line after the death of his comrade and head for the forest. The wounded soldier starts to lose health but keeps pestering Henry about his wound. Henry then commits another act of abandonment, leaving the man to die.
Henry wanders about in the forest only to find himself back at the battle he had abandoned and the men now retreating. Henry goes to ask one of the retreating soldiers what has happened when the soldier hits Henry in the face with his rifle which causes a bloody gash. Henry is then helped by another soldier back to his regiment where he meets up with his comrade Wilson who thinks Henry has been shot and therefore takes care of him. No one but Henry realizes that he had abandoned because of his new “red badge of courage.” The next day fighting commences again and Henry finds himself fighting for his fallen comrade from the wounded soldier line, Jim Conklin, and takes out this unknown rage on the enemy soldiers. Slowly, Henry and Wilson both become known as the best fighters of their regiment, Henry even replaces the color bearer after he falls which brings even more honor to his name. Henry becomes fueled by anger as other commanding officers call his regiment terrible names such as “mule drivers” and “mud diggers.” This fire beneath Henry gives him the energy required in the last battle where they take control of a fence, Wilson captures the opponent’s flag and four prisoners are taken.
After the final battle the regiment is again sent to march back. Their task has been completed with a great victory. While marching back Henry is again drawn into his head to recap the past two days and his actions of the days. He tries to balance the overwhelming guilt he has for abandoning both the battlefield and the dying man in the forest with his pride from his courage and strength in the final day of fighting. In the end Henry reaches peace with himself and revels in “quiet manhood.” Henry was given a chance that most soldiers who abandoned were not, a second chance without grievance. Since his abandonment was his own little secret his return to the battlefield and second chance at fighting was taken as if he had been there the whole time. Most soldiers who abandoned were looked upon as cowards and often killed for their actions. In the end Henry found his courage and was able to look past his own actions without guilt.

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