The main topic of The Red Badge of Courage is fear and how it would affect a young man in a bloody war, like The Civil War. The war becomes the young soldiers worst nightmare, which gives him conflicting thoughts, emotions and fears. The young character soon realizes as all of these things affect him emotionally and physically, that the war is very different from what he had hoped it was going to be. Although the soldier becomes nervous and even runs away at the Battle of Chancellorsville, he eventually returns to find that he and his fellow soldiers have grown.
They had learned more about themselves then they ever believed possible. The young soldier becomes a man with plenty of courage by the end of this book. When we first meet Henry with his regiment, the 304th New York, he is bored and even lonesome wishing to return to the farm. As time passes at the camp, Henry begins to realize that being a hero in the war may not be as easy as he once had dreamed. The inner conflict begins with Henry wondering about how he will react when the battle begins, if he will run like a chicken, or stay a fight bravely.
In the first battle fought Henry fights bravely, but as time goes by in the second battle, he becomes both tired and scared and runs away from the enemy and his fears. He ends up rationalizing his fear with the fact that he knew that the regiment would lose. He soon finds out however, they won, and he begins to run faster from the thought of chickening out of the battle. This only adds to Henrys internal emotional conflict with himself. Henry finally returns to his regiment with a wound from a rock and tells that he was wounded while fighting for another regiment.
As Henry is running into the woods away from the battle, we find out more about the character emotionally and what he is like inside and not just outside. As Henry battles with himself emotionally and fears the battle that is going on outside that he has run from, he learns more about himself and begins the process of growing up. Henry encounters many things on his escape from reality that turn his travels even more trying. One of these things is when he finds a dead body that has been there for quite sometime, now being grotesquely described by Crane.
Young Henry also sees nature as he has never seen it before. From the perspective of a great fear that has overtaken his entire body. He ends up looking at nature with a new found respect that he never knew before. At one point he sees a squirrel that is busily running through the forest. Henry throws a pine cone at the small animal and as it runs away he begins to tell himself that his running away was just like the squirrels. He had sensed fear too great and ran from it. In the forest, Henry begins to think about those things that are important to him.
Even more powerful in his mind is the fact that all he wanted to be was a hero and he ran from the opportunity. His emotional conflict becomes so strong and Crane makes the reader so involved that the reader begins to sense the pain and suffering that Henry is dealing with inside. Even more powerful then all of Henrys thoughts of fears though, was his fear of being made fun of by the other soldiers. The strongest literary element in this book is Cranes power of description. Throughout the book Crane uses these descriptions to keep the reader involved and interested.
It would seem that Crane makes it so that everything that the young soldier Henry sees on his journey you see too, from his exact point of view. The description that Crane uses throughout the book makes the book, without it the conflicts that the character has would not be as evident and not as strong to the reader. Stephen Crane also uses his powerful descriptions in the parts of the book where the character is fighting battles. He puts the reader in the face of the enemy and describes to them every last detail making the reader know, as close to possible, what every detail was like.
If Crane had made the battles any less dramatic, the reader would have had a hard time following what Henry was having an emotional conflict about. Since Crane put you right there in the battle, you also felt the way that Henry did. Stephen Crane used the young soldiers inner and outer battles to give the reader a true idea of what the Civil War must have been like. The reader will visualize the battles, smell the gunpowder, hear the guns, and sense everything else that happens throughout the book due to Cranes use of description. The reader even begins to feel and sympathize with Henrys emotions and feelings.