Themes of Heritage and Color in Red Badge of Courage
"The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. As the landscape changed from brown to green, the army awakened, and began to tremble with eagerness at the noise of rumors. It cast its eyes upon the roads, which were growing from long troughs of liquid mud to proper thoroughfares. A river, amber-tinted in the shadow of its banks, purled at the army's feet; and at night, when the stream had become of a sorrowful blackness, one could see across it the red, eyelike gleam of hostile camp fires set in the low brows of distant hills" (Crane 1). The above quote is the opening paragraph of Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage. Just this one paragraph foreshadows the themes of change in color and its underlying messages, and the subtle idea of social heritage. Crane, through his detailed writing, colors the war as an ever changing psychological standing as well as the changing ideals of the socially learned heritage.
The novel opens with Henry Fleming in the field and remembering the route to his current condition within the war. Crane spends a good amount of time relaying the interaction between Henry and his mother as he prepares to go off to fight in the war as well as the questioning of himself as a man. What is so interesting about this particular part, as it relates to the end of the novel, is that the America ideals of the creation of a man (hero) through war and war as beautiful are approached and challenged.
Henry's mother isn't pleased with his going off to war. She warns him against not only the enemy but also the men he shall be fighting with. "He had, of course, dreamed of battles all his life - of vague and bloody conflicts that had thrilled him with their sweep and fire. In visions he had seen himself in many struggles. From his home his youthful eyes had looked upon the war in his own country with distrust" (Crane 4). While his mother feared for his safety, Henry began questioning the romanticized beauty of war. However, he still followed the learned assumption of heroism of a warrior. He knew he did not know of himself when it came to war, but felt he still had to prove himself, whatever that may be. "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" (Crane 15).
By the end of the novel, through several doubts with his own identity as coward and hero, Henry succeeds in defining himself as man. He finds the victory that allows him to fulfill his own idea of heroism. "He felt a quiet manhood, non-assertive but of sturdy and strong blood. He knew that he would no more quail before his guides wherever they should point. He had been to tough the great death, and found that, after all, it was but the great death. He was a man" (Crane 182). He had questioned the...