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Themes

The Red Badge of Courage is the story of a young Civil War soldier’s desire to prove courageous in the face of his fear. The novel explores a variety of points of view on the matter, among them the idea of self-preservation, or the survival instinct. It’s simply unnatural to risk one’s life for something like battle. Courage is very much tied to masculinity; the main character Henry Fleming feels he cannot be a real man without first proving his valor. Ultimately, courage is proven through his commitment to the Union Army and its greater cause.

Questions About Courage

  1. What does the novel say about what "courage" essentially is?
  2. Which of Henry’s actions reveals the most courage? The least?
  3. Does Henry define courage differently than the other soldiers in the novel? Consider Wilson and the Lieutenant’s points of view. Which one is "correct"?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Henry is the most courageous when he runs away.

"Courage" is a subjective term in The Red Badge of Courage.

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