Throughout the novel, the Red Badge of Courage, the author, Stephen Crane, uses descriptions to label characters rather than using their real names.
Crane refers to Henry as “the Youth,” while he refers to some of the others as “the Loud Soldier,” “the Tall Soldier,” and “the Tattered Soldier.” Although Crane doesn’t typically refer to the men by their actual names, he still gives them distinct personalities that play a large part in the novel, specifically in the development of Henry. The Loud Soldier, the Tall Soldier, and the Tattered Soldier show Henry what it’s like to be a man, each in their own way, through the novel. Wilson, or “the Loud Soldier,” begins as a arrogant and confident soldier, showing no signs of fear at the thought of going into battle. However, by the start of the first battle Wilson shows a lack of confidence and bravery when he asks Henry to return his personal items to his parents if he doesn’t make it out of the battle alive. Wilson becomes more quiet and reflective after experiencing battling first hand, and he and Henry become decent friends. Together, the two men build up their courage and virility, eventually fighting fiercely, selflessly, and well.
In the novel, Wilson serves as a reflection of Henry. His differences from Henry add perspective to Henry’s character and experience.”The Tall Soldier,” also known as Jim Conklin, is a relatively experienced and mature soldier. He is confident enough to avoid claiming that he wouldn’t “run” if things got too bad. The Tall Soldier is calm and practical and looks at things from a lighter perspective. Jim offers Henry a pragmatic viewpoint on courage at the beginning of the story: run when others run, fight like mad when they fight. He also embodies the consequences of this viewpoint. Jim is so terribly injured in the first battle that he is almost unrecognizable to Henry.
As the injured “spectral soldier,” with his eyes gazing deep into the unknown, Jim is like a window into death. But if he finds any secrets or meaning as he stares into death, Jim never passes them along. The spectral soldier represents a meeting point between life and death, and between Henry’s glorious ideals of war and the shocking gruesome reality of the real thing.
Although Crane doesn’t develop the character of “the Tattered Soldier” as much as the other men, he still manages to make “the Tattered Soldier” a significant character in the story. By asking Henry about the battle and his nonexistent wounds when they meet, the tattered soldier acts as Henry’s external conscience. Henry gets offended at the tattered man’s asking of this, thinking that the tattered man knows his secrets, although Henry is most likely overreacting due to his own guilt. Henry makes a juvenile attempt to escape his own shame when he abandons the tattered man after he graciously tries to assist the wounded Jim as well as help himself when he is on the verge of dying. This memory that Henry has of the tattered man and the guilt of abandoning him plagues Henry’s conscience throughout the novel. Throughout the novel The Red Badge of Courage Henry encounters a series of characters that shape him into the him he would become by the end of the story.