Updated: Apr 22, 2021
Courage Overcoming Fear-The Red Badge of Courage
Stephen Crane’s moving short story of Henry Fleming and his experience during the Civil War is a training book of lessons on fear, temporary defeat and, ultimately, courage overcoming fear. Written in 1895, The Red Badge of Courage is a modern masterpiece written by a man who never experienced a battle, but who packed a full compliment of adventures into his brief 29 year life. The hero, Henry Fleming is a northern boy who is sent off to war by his mother who worries about his safety, but also worries about Henry standing up to courage in the face of danger. His mother tells Henry, “Never do no shirking on my account, if the time comes when you have to be killed or do a mean thing, why Henry don’t think of anything cept for what’s right because there’s many a woman that have to bear up under such things these days. The Lord will take care of us all.” We don’t learn about Henry’s background and we don’t learn about what he does after the war. What we experience and what we can be inspired about in Red Badge of Courage is Henry’s very real fears, his very frank self-talk and his internal struggle to do the right thing. Each of us has this same self-battle that goes on inside our head when it comes to business and relationships. The book opens with Henry going off to join the Union army and after a period of boredom, engaging in his first action. Although initially strong, a second Rebel advance scares Henry and he flees behind the lines. When confronted by other Union soldiers, they assume he is injured. He runs into his comrade Jim Conklin and watches him die. The soldiers talked about a “red badge of courage” a wound sustained in battle as the mark of a hero. Through a confrontation with another fleeing soldier, Henry receives his “red badge of courage”, though through a hit to the head rather than a bullet. Eventually, Henry is reunited with his regiment, and creates a fanciful story that increasingly becomes enriched as his regiment brags about his bravery. As Henry recovers, he and his friend Wilson overhear the general talking of plans to send his regiment, the 304th into battle the following days in what the general essentially thought would be a sacrificial effort. Hearing that the general considered the 304th an unprofessional unit, Henry and Wilson were determined to prove the general wrong. During the ensuing battle, the two comrades captured the Rebel flag. After the battle, the praise rung out for Fleming and Wilson and Henry is exemplified as the ideal fighting man, an irony that is not lost on Fleming. Now, however, his shame is gone and his courage deserved. The inspiration of overcoming negative self-talk, standing up in spite of fear and ultimately demonstrating courage over fear make The Red Badge of Courage a great read for anyone looking to do the right thing.
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Mark Twain said “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not the absence of fear. Take a step today to overcome a fear. Make a difficult phone call, have a difficult conversation, try something that you have been afraid of. The first step, once taken will take a huge chunk of the fear.
2. Never let negative self-talk sabotage your dreams and goals. Immediately after setting a goal, negative self-talk will present dozens of reasons why the goal is not attainable. Expect this reaction from yourself, but counter it by immediately listing the motivation behind the goal and the methods that you will use to reach the goal.
3. Look for opportunities to be courageous. Step up and speak the truth in love when necessary. Each courageous act brings a greater self-confidence and builds a foundation of self-respect.
4. An excellent radio adaptation of The Red Badge of Courage is available for download from www.mysteryshows.com. It was performed in 1949 by the NBC University players.
5. Purchase a copy of Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane. Read it with your children and talk to them about courage. They confront situations in school everyday where courage is needed.
6. Use the buddy system. Wilson was Henry’s support system and that support strengthened both men. Who can you rely on to help you through your fears? Courage doesnt always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says Ill try again tomorrow. -Mary Ann Rademacher