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Whereas Jim Conklin’s character remains notably
steady throughout the novel, Wilson’s undergoes a dramatic change.
Wilson is initially loud, opinionated, and naïve. For the first
half of the book, Crane refers to him almost exclusively as “the
loud soldier.” Wilson indignantly assures Henry that if battle occurs,
he will certainly fight in it: “I said I was going to do my share
of the fighting—that’s what I said. And I am, too. Who are you anyhow?
You talk as if you thought you was Napoleon Bonaparte.” Shortly
thereafter, he approaches Henry again. Certain that he is about
to meet his doom, he gives the youth a yellow envelope to deliver
to his family, should he die in battle. This erratic shift from obnoxious
bravado to naked vulnerability demonstrates Wilson’s immaturity.
Like Henry, he is initially little more than a youth trying desperately
to assure himself of his manhood.
Wilson’s transformation becomes clear relatively
quickly. After disappearing into battle, he resurfaces to take care
of Henry with all of the bustling of an “amateur nurse” upon Henry’s
return to camp. He further displays his generosity by insisting
that Henry take his blanket. Upon waking the next day, Henry notes
the change in his friend: “He was no more a loud young soldier.
There was now about him a fine reliance. He showed a quiet belief
in his purpose and his abilities.”
Wilson’s attitude toward the envelope which he earlier
entrusted to Henry further demonstrates the maturation that he has
undergone. Though ashamed of his earlier display of fear, he asks
Henry for the envelope back—he is no longer interested in his reputation
or in the amount of sheer bravery that his comrades associate with
his name, two issues that ponderously plague Henry. Instead, Wilson seems
to have “climbed a peak of wisdom from which he could perceive himself
as a very wee thing.”
This transformation furthers one of the novel’s explorations, showing
plainly what happens when one realizes the relative insignificance
of his or her life—an awareness that Henry seems to have gained
by the novel’s end. Furthermore, the development of Wilson’s character
contributes to the noise/silence motif. Through the sounds of battle,
endless gossip, and empty bragging of the soldiers, noise comes
to be associated with youth, vanity, and struggle. Toward the end
of the novel, these sounds give way to a peace and quiet that suggest
the eventuality of the progression past youthful struggle to the
more reflective musings of manhood.
Ace your assignments with our guide to The Red Badge of Courage!