The Red Badge of Courage

by: Stephen Crane

Jim Conklin

Jim contrasts sharply with Henry in the opening pages of the novel. When Henry asks Jim if he would flee from battle, Jim’s answer—that he would run if other soldiers ran, fight if they fought—establishes him as a pragmatist. He is strong and self-reliant, and does not romanticize war or its supposed glories in the manner that Henry does. Unlike Wilson, whose loud complaints characterize his early appearances, Jim marches through his days efficiently and with few grievances. He informs Henry that he can unburden himself of his unnecessary munitions, declaring, “You can now eat and shoot . . . That’s all you want to do.”

Jim has little patience for the kind of loud, knee-jerk criticism or vague abstraction that distracts Wilson and Henry. He prefers to do what duty requires of him and finds a quiet, simple pleasure in doing so. He silences Wilson and Henry from discussing the qualifications of their commanding officers while they are eating because he “could not rage in fierce argument in the presence of such sandwiches.”

Jim’s quiet demeanor persists even as he dies. He does not indulge in a protracted death scene, curse his fate, or philosophize about the cruelties and injustices of war. Instead, he brushes Henry and his offers of comfort aside. He seeks to die alone, and those present notice “a curious and profound dignity in the firm lines of his awful face.” The solemn poise with which Jim dies puzzles Henry, who wants to rail loudly at the universe. In death, as in life, Jim possesses the rare, self-assured goodness of a man who knows and fulfills his responsibilities.