In the novel The Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane explores the conflicting desires of a young man in war. Henry has a desire to be a war hero, but also a lack of courage. Henry enlists in the war only to find that he did not want to fight. He simply wanted the glory. During the second battle, Henry loses his will power to stay and fight, and he retreats. He has a few encounters with wounded soldiers, and eventually changes his whole perspective on war. At the end of the novel, Henry is able to reflect on his actions, and come to logical conclusions about what he did right and wrong. Throughout the novel, Crane makes frequent mention to a machine or machine-like scenarios. Crane uses the machine motif to show that men lose vital human qualities while in war.
Throughout the novel, Crane shows that men lose mental control of their physical actions and become like machines in war. They must act as machines to do their "job" without stopping to think about their actions. In the first battle, Crane shows that Henry acted simply on impulse. He says, "before he was ready to begin - before he had announced to himself that he was about to fight - he threw the obedient, well-balanced rifle into position and fired a first wild shot. Directly he was working at his weapon like an automatic affair"(25). It is apparent that Henry lost his mental control over his actions. He was acting on "auto-pilot," without giving thought to what he was doing. During that same battle, Crane remarks that Henry "was at a task. He was like a carpenter who has made many boxes, making still another box"(25). Henry was acting in a machine-like manner to do his job; kill. Crane again links Henry's actions to a machine, saying, "the soldier went mechanically, dully"(26). He had to give up his mental control to be able to act in such a callous way. .
Secondly, Crane maintains that a man must give up his individuality to become part of the machine that is war.