The Red Badge of Courage - Success and Ethics
The Red Badge of Courage (1895)
Written by the American, Stephen Crane (1871-1900),
The Battle of
Chancellorsville (1863) during the
American Civil War
The two opposing sides were the:
- Union army (from the Northern
- Crane died of tuberculosis in England where his book’s anti-war message was much
better received than in America.
- A 1951 film starred Audie Murphy as Henry Fleming (pictured
Henry Fleming, young private in the Union army
Jim Conklin and Wilson, his fellow soldiers and friends
The tattered soldier, an injured soldier
Private Henry Fleming’s regiment of the Union army defeats the Confederates’ first
Terrified, he can’t run away (because he’s boxed in by his fellow soldiers) and he fires mindlessly and
But, faced by another charge, he flees into the surrounding countryside with some of his fellow soldiers.
After an initial feeling that the remaining fighters are fools, he is ashamed of his cowardice after:
- hearing a general praise his regiment.
- reminding himself of his mother’s advice to do his duty.
Shaken, he wanders through a forest and runs away after seeing a soldier’s decaying corpse.
He then joins some wounded soldiers, of whom he is deeply envious, because he thinks that a wound is like
“a red badge of courage”.
He meets a twice shot, tattered soldier (pictured right) who:
- speaks proudly of the fact that his regiment did not flee.
- repeatedly asks Henry how he has been wounded.
This forces Henry to move away, and he eventually sees his fellow solder and friend, Jim
Conklin, who is badly wounded.
Henry promises to take care of him, but he dies with Henry and the tattered (and dying) soldier who
continues to enquire about Henry’s wound. Unable to bear his questioning, Henry
abandons him to die in the forest.
He is close enough to the battlefield to watch some of the fighting. He tries to stop some retreating soldiers
to find out what is happening, but one of them gashes Henry’s head with a rifle. After returning to his regiment,
his friend, Wilson, thinks he has been shot and cares for him.
The next day, the regiment goes into battle. Enraged by Jim Conklin’s death, Henry fights
bravely and then leads a charge carrying the regimental
This prompts his commanders, a colonel and lieutenant, to say that he and Wilson are the best
soldiers in the regiment.
Henry again carries the flag in a victorious charge. Wilson takes the enemy flag and four prisoners are
Henry briefly remembers his cowardice the previous day and his abandonment of the dying tattered man.
But his guilt disappears when he thinks of his bravery through “the red sickness” of
battle. He is now able to look forward to peacetime with quiet pride and
Lessons for success and ethics
1. Self-respect through self-sacrifice
Henry learns the importance of courage and duty taught by his
This gives him his self-respect back after the shame of his cowardice.
2. Listen to your conscience
The tattered soldier’s constant nagging is Henry’s conscience.
3. You can’t do everything on your own
The regiment’s success in battle is a team effort with soldiers (like Henry) fighting
individually but co-operating well with each other.
Henry is pictured right with another soldier (Bill Maudlin) in the film.
4. Nobody is perfect
Like everybody else, he has:
- weaknesses (his cowardice).
- strengths (bravery and learning from mistakes).
5. Never stop learning
Henry learns from his:
- mother’s moral responsibility.
- fellow soldiers, particularly Wilson and Jim Conklin (Henry is inspired by their
bravery and support)
6. Empowerment and self-belief are important
At first Henry fights mechanically and mindlessly, feeling part of a big military machine and becoming:
“not a man but a member”.
He is much more courageous and self-confident when he discovers his own:
He takes responsibility for his own actions rather than relying on other people to tell
him what to do.
Henry is pictured right in battle in the film.
7. Humility is vital
Wilson discovers quiet self-belief and resolve from recognizing
a) life’s relative insignificance
b) vulnerability (prompting him to give Henry a letter for his family if he should
Henry, too, learns humility from realizing that:
- the world will go on without him.
- everyone, great or small, will meet the same fate of death.
8. Adversity can be advantageous
Despite its horrors, war makes Henry and Wilson:
9. Be a principled pragmatist
Jim Conklin has principles ,particularly
But he also pragmatically changes his principles according to different
He tells Henry that he would:
- run (if other soldiers did).
Henry is pictured right with two other soldiers in the film before going into battle.
Key quotes on ethics and integrity
He wished that he, too, had a wound, a red badge of honour.
A serious prophet upon predicting a flood should be the first to climb a tree,
Henry (justifying his cowardice)
Key quotes on war
He turned now with a lover’s thirst to images of tranquil skies, fresh meadows, cool brooks – an existence of
soft and eternal peace (on Henry leaving the battle)
It was a woman, red and white, hating and loving, that called him with the voice of his hopes (on Henry and the
Key quotes on teamwork
He became not a man but a member ... He was welded into a common personality which was dominated by a single
desire (on Henry’s automatic rifle firing)
Two literature websites to