Red Badge of Courage – Fight or Flight: The Natura

l Reaction to DangerFor all of our existence, we humans have observed nature and its perplexing, if not bizarre, creations. One of the most general findings about animals deals with their reactions when they encounter perilous situations. This is the well-known, fight or flight expression. This, however, is not a rule strictly applying to wild animals. In fact, it actually encompasses the human species as well. Author Stephen Crane wrote a book called The Red Badge of Courage that deals with this idea. This novel is set in the time of the American Civil War in which Henry Fleming, the protagonist, is in the Union army. He, along with most of the other characters in the book, takes action along the terms of fight or flight. They all, at some point or another, get afraid of something and try to hide from it in any way possible.


Henry is a young man, who eagerly enlists in the army at the beginning of The Red Badge of Courage. He is looking forward to fighting in battle and is disappointed that his regiment hasnt yet seen the battlefield. When they finally do come face to face with a band of Confederate soldiers, Henry decides hed rather demonstrate the flight quality and survive, than fight and be mortally wounded, so he runs away and takes cover in a secluded area in the forest. After running away, Henry attempts to rationalize his behavior so that the rest of his regiment will not dub him as a scared young boy. He wondered what they would remark when later he appeared in camp. His mind heard howls of derision. Their density would not enable them to understand his sharper point of view. His first instincts tell him he is a horrible coward, not worthy of fighting in the war, however, later on he convinces himself he was only trying to save himself. He also notes that the other soldiers who didnt run were ignorant as to the danger they were bringing upon themselves.

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It seemed that the blind ignorance and stupidity of those little pieces had betrayed him. He had been overturned and crushed by their lack of sense in holding the position, when intelligent deliberation would have convinced them that it was impossible. He, the enlightened man who looks afar in the dark, had fled because of his superior perceptions and knowledge. He felt a great anger against his comrades. He knew it could be proved that they had been fools.


After Henry comforts himself and rebuilds his self-esteem, he begins to return to the battlefield, but is bombarded by an entire regiment running from it.
Soon he was in the midst of them. They were leaping and scampering all about him. Their blanched faces shone in the dusk. They seemed, for the most part, to be very burly men. The youth turned from one to another of them as they galloped along. His incoherent questions were lost. They were heedless of his appeals. They did not seem to see him.


When he asks why they are running several times over, one soldier finally hits Henry in the head with the butt of his rifle, giving him his first Red Badge of Courage, or wound. Back in camp, a good friend named Wilson tends to him: “Come on, Henry. I’ll take keer’a yeh.” At this point, Henry takes on the fight characteristics as his calls the generals names for not letting them confront the enemy again, completely going against his first reaction to a battle.


Henry is not the only character in the novel that demonstrates qualities supporting this theory. Jim Conklin is in Henrys regiment, and is also in the first battle in which this regiment fights. In the same battle that Henry runs from, Jim stays and fights, and is then mortally wounded. Henry tries to comfort him, but Jim runs from him into the depths of the forest, the youth saw his friend running in a staggering and stumbling way toward a little clump of bushes. His heart seemed to wrench itself almost free from his body at this sight. He made a noise of pain. After Jim finds a quite place, he stops running and lets himself die.


He was invaded by a creeping strangeness that slowly enveloped him. For a moment the tremor of his legs caused him to dance a sort of hideous hornpipe. His arms beat wildly about his head in expression of implike enthusiasm. His tall figure stretched itself to its full height. There was a slight rending sound. Then it began to swing forward, slow and straight, in the manner of a falling tree. A swift muscular contortion made the left shoulder strike the ground first.


In this case, Jim both runs from the evil he is trying to avoid, and dies, forever sparing him the grief of confronting it. He doesnt want the whole regiment to know that he was badly wounded in their first battle.


Most of the soldiers in The Red Badge of Courage become afraid of the war, and run from it at some point or another. As James Dickey stated: Thomas Beer, Cranes first and in some ways best biographer, says that the essence of Crane is fearglancing or peeking viewpoint is that of a person forced to look at an event or person, all the time wishing to avoid it, to turn his head, close his eyes, escape, go to sleep or die. This is support throughout Cranes novel when Henry, Jim and the entire regiment take flight from the fight. They are all afraid of dying, but would rather die than be forced to look at an event or person that the are trying to avoid. For this reason, Thomas Beer is justified in stating just that.

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