Expectations Versus Reality In Stephen Crane's The Red Badge Of Courage

810 words - 3 pages

Expectations versus Reality in Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage

The notion that war is an exciting, romantic endeavor full of glory and heroism has existed for centuries.  Stephen Crane set out to demystify war through his novel The Red Badge of Courage, which traces the experiences of a young soldier in the American Civil War. Crane shows the true nature of war by contrasting Henry Fleming's romantic expectations with the reality that he encounters.

This contrast between romantic vision and cold reality can be seen early in the novel, with Henry's departure from home. Driven to a "prolonged ecstasy of excitement" by the rejoicing crowd, Henry enlists in the army and says good-bye to his mother with a "light of excitement and expectancy in his eyes" (709). He anticipates a romantic, sentimental send-off reminiscent of Spartan times and even goes as far as preparing remarks in advance which he hopes to use "with touching effect" to create "a beautiful scene" (710).

However, Crane presents a more realistic view. At the news of Henry's enlistment, his mother simply says "The Lord's will be done" and continues milking the cow, having previously urged Henry not to be "a fool" by enlisting (709). She then destroys his hopes by offering sensible, practical advice in her good-bye speech. Her send-off is so different from what Henry expects that he is irritated and "impatient under the ordeal" of the speech (710).

The contrast is again evident in Henry's army experiences before going into battle. His treatment before leaving town only serves to increase his romantic expectations as his former classmates "[throng] about him with wonder and admiration" (710). Henry's regiment is then treated so well on its journey to Washington that he is led to believe "that he must be a hero" with "the strength to do mighty deeds of arms" (711). In keeping with his romantic beliefs, Henry imagines that his regiment will be involved in "a series of death struggles with small time in between for sleep and meals" (711).

Yet again, Crane presents a more realistic view in Henry's actual experiences. Instead of "automatically" being a hero, as he had anticipated, Henry faces uncertainty and "a little panic-fear" as to his own ability to withstand battle (712). Filled with self-doubt, Henry dreams of "a thousand-tongued fear that [will] babble at his back and cause him to flee" (718). In addition, Henry must put up with "months of monotonous...

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