Flag Power in The Red Badge of Courage Essay

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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 descriptions of the flag. The flag, symbolic by its
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The flag as a "beautiful bird" strikes Henry prior to his first true experience of battle gore; he has fought, but not at the height of aggression as we observe later in the novel. 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…

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