Among such personages are "the loud soldier" Wilson, who initially behaves with bravado but gradually manifests a personal change that turns him into a person who "showed a quiet belief in his purpose and his abilities" (Crane 1990, ch.14, par.14), and Jim Conklin, who is a strong and self-assertive soldier realistic about war, thus serving from the beginning of the novel as a contrast to romantic Henry. The way Conklin stoically endures hardships also makes him different from Wilson with his loud dissatisfaction. The plot of the novel develops as a Union regiment waits for the engagement into hostilities, during which time Fleming, attracted by the prospect of glory, is at the same time worried about his courage. After experiencing the battle and feeling himself insignificant in it, Fleming flees. From this moment start his tormenting attempts of self-reconciliation, as he initially tries to justify his behavior aimed at preservation of his life. But he encounters a dead body in the forest, which reminds him of the insignificance of human life, and when he later joins the group of wounded soldiers he wishes to have a wound too, associating it with "the red badge of courage". As he is ashamed by the questions of a tattered solider about his wound, and as he sees the dignified death of Conklin, Fleming is prepared for the change of his attitude. After he is wounded by another fleeing soldier and returns to his camp where Wilson, who now is different from the loud soldier he used to be, cares for him, Fleming returns to the battle and is seen as the most courageous soldier. As he reflects on his new perception of war, he no longer strives for glory, and realizes that he withstood "the red sickness" of battle.
On ground of this, and considering the title of the book, we can immediately see that the notion of courage constitutes the main theme of the narrative. Indeed, as the story of the young soldier develops, we, along with Fleming, are defining courage, wish to achieve it, and, finally, see Henry obtain it. In the beginning of the story Henry Fleming perceives courage in a romantic way as he imagines that akin to heroes of the past he will return from war with his shield or on his shield, but certainly with glory surrounding him. In this way, for Fleming courage represents an external measure equated to envy from the side of men, and increased attention from the side women. Since the very beginning of the novel Henry demonstrates his rejection of alternative interpretations of courage as he disagrees with the advice of his mother to fulfil his duties in a honest way, even if this would endanger his life. This disparity between definitions of courage would be present throughout the book. For example, it is at its greatest when Henry leaves in the forest the wounded soldier who is annoying him with the questions about Henrys wound, and this disparity diminishes as Henry excels in his first battle. Finally, as the novel comes to the end, Fleming triumphantly returns from the battle being already mature, and having at this point a realistic understanding of how difficult it may be for the courage to emerge. Now, courage is no longer a product of opinions of other people, but rather it represents the product of deeply felt concerns about reputation and self-respect of a soldier. Thus, we can see how "the red badge of courage", in literal meaning of a wound and in symbolic meaning of the internal conflict, is a painful but often