Stephen Crane was one of the first naturalist writers of his times. The Red Badge of Courage is a book that tells the story of Henry, a young boy who goes off to fight in the Civil War and goes through changes in his character. There is a lot of naturalistic symbolism throughout this story that explains Henry's actions and motives of his changes. His changes during war are not caused by his experience of fighting in battle, but by his environment, instinct, and fate. Henry decides to enlist in the army and once he is ready to go to battle he reacts in unexpected ways. At the end of the story Henry becomes a war hero and earns his "red badge of courage", not by his actions, but by chance and fate.
Henry enlists in the Union Army during the Civil War even though his mother refused for him to go. The reason why he wanted to enlist in the army was because he had dreamed of fighting in battle his whole life. " He had burned several times to enlist He had read of marches, sieges, conflicts, and he had longed to see it all The newspapers, the gossip of the village, his own picturings, had aroused him to an uncheckable degree." This is the first sign of Henry's re-action to decide to join the army. He did not choose out of free will, but by his pressuring environment and the heroic perception of being a soldier. Later on he realizes that he had never wished to come to the war. " He had not enlisted of his free will. He had been dragged by the merciless government." This is the first sign of a change in his character.
The story starts when Henry is waiting in camp for the army to move. Most of the soldiers in his regiment are also "fresh fish" -- inexperienced boys nervous to go off to battle. Stephen Crane presents Henry's first dilemma that will lead to the development of Henry's character. The problem is Henry's doubt of his bravery. "He tried to mathematically prove himself he would not run from battle.