The Red Badge of Courage

What does henry do, feel, look, and say that makes him a coward ??

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I think one of the themes in this book is the folly of making blanket statements like coward and hero. All these men get scared and Henry is no exception. Most of the men run away in battle to preserve their life. Is this cowardly or common sense? This binary is what Henry obsesses over throughout the novel. He desires to be courageous like a classical Greek hero, but wonders secretly if he is capable of such unquestioned bravery when confronted with battle. When it comes to bear that he cannot, he spends the aftermath wondering if he is a coward or merely a pragmatist. Henry's actual acts of courage come toward the end of the book, but they are fraught with complication. He certainly seems to be inching closer to maturity/manhood, but these deeds are often performed without any forethought or deliberation - for example, his celebrated aggressiveness was the product of disoriented shooting beyond the call to cease fire. The motivation behind most of his courageous actions is the instinct of self-preservation rather than heroism. Crane may be trying to suggest with his conflicted protagonist that courage in warfare needs to be redefined - it is not the classic ideal of the heroes of story and song, but of doing the best one can to survive and make headway amidst the turmoil and terror of battle. This complicated view of the fine line between courage and cowardice is a far more realistic depiction of what real soldiers face. The "red badge of courage" can kill.