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The Red Badge of Courage: Understanding Of Courage And Cowardice In Novel

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In his novel, The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane presents his definition of the concepts of courage and cowardice. Henry, the main character in the book, often ponders these topics, revealing Crane’s definition of them. Before Henry even engages in combat, he starts to rationalize that he was forced into it. His fearful thoughts start to lead him down the path of cowardice. “It occurred to him that he had never wished to come to the war. He had not enlisted of his free will. He had been dragged by the merciless government. And now they were taking him out to be slaughtered” (p. 21). Later on, Henry flees from the regiment at the sound of firing. “He blanched like one who has come to the edge of a cliff at midnight and is suddenly made aware. There was a revelation. He, too, threw down his gun and fled. There was no shame in his face. He ran like a rabbit” (p. 39). Later, when Henry looks back on this incident he comes to the realization that his flight was displaying his cowardice. He is appalled by his cowardice and even compares it to a crime. “The youth cringed as if discovered in a crime…He had fled” (p. 43). However, Henry views courage in a different light. “At times he regarded the wounded soldiers in an envious way. He conceived persons with torn bodies to be particularly happy. He wished that he, too, had a wound, a red badge of courage” (p. 52). Here, the author is saying that a wound or any injury received in battle is viewed as a sign of courage. Again Crane says, “He now thought that he wished he was dead. He believed that he envied those men whose bodies lay strewn over the grass of the fields and on the fallen leaves of the forest” (p. 60). Henry believes again that courage is injury or death in combat. Henry wants the honor of being known as courageous because he had fallen in battle. He continues to wish for this as he passes more bodies. “Again he thought that he wished he was dead. He believed that he envied a corpse…they might have been killed by lucky chances…yet they would receive laurel from tradition. He cried out bitterly that their crowns were stolen and their robes of glorious memories were shams. However, he still said that it was a great pity that he was not as they” (p. 65). Here Henry begins to realize that his definition of courage may not be entirely correct. He comprehends that those whom he may have viewed as courageous, could have been cowards who coincidentally became injured or killed. Although he somewhat realizes that his definition of courage is flawed, he still continues to yearn to be seen as this type of courageous.

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C.S. Lewis’ definition of courage differs from Crane’s. As opposed to being able to see if someone is courageous by looking at the outside, courage should be viewed from a mental perspective. Lewis states that one’s actions in response to fear denote courage and cowardice. According to Lewis, if Henry was afraid of the gunfire and wanted to run away but resolved not to, then even if not injured or wounded or lost in battle, he would still have demonstrated courage. But if his fear led to flight, then this would exhibit his cowardice. At one point Screwtape says, “The Enemy permits a war or an earthquake or some other calamity, and at once courage becomes so obviously lovely and important even in human eyes that all our work is undone.” Screwtape makes clear that God allows misfortunate circumstances to occur in order that the virtue of courage might be demonstrated. James 1:2-3 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.” Screwtape also says, “…the Enemy and the courage the Enemy supplies…” This means that God is the provider and foundation of courageous actions. Lewis also states that courage is a very important virtue and one’s response to fear, if not courageous, but rather cowardly, could lead to other sin as well. “The more he fears, the more he will hate. And Hatred is also a great anodyne for shame. To make a deep wound in his charity, you should therefore first defeat his courage…courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point which means the point of highest reality.” ‘Courage is the testing point’ means that when fear presents itself, it is harder to act courageous than cowardly. It is easy to be a coward, but submitting to cowardice can lead to other sin, for example, hate. At the end of the ‘letter’ the character Screwtape says, “For remember, the act of cowardice is all that matters; the emotion of fear is, in itself, no sin and, though we enjoy it, does us no good.” This means that courage is not just doing something ‘brave’ in the eyes of others, but overcoming fear and continuing the appropriate action despite one’s fear.

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