THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE
BY STEPHEN CRANE
PUBLISHED FIRST IN 1895
CIVIL WAR ERA
The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane is a book based on a young soldier engaging in the civil war. The psychological conflict that he faces throughout the story is both internal and external. The battles are fought in the readers face to show the young soldiers' conflict with himself, other soldiers and the battle itself. With Stephen Cranes amazing power of description the reader becomes engulfed in the battle at hand and feels that the conflicts of the soldiers are becoming their own.
The main topic of the book is fear and how it would affect a young man in a bloody war, like The Civil War. The war becomes the young soldiers worst nightmare, which gives him conflicting thoughts, emotions and fears. The young character soon realizes as all of these things affect him emotionally and physically, that the war is very different from what he had hoped it was going to be. Although the soldier becomes nervous and even runs away at the Battle of Chancellorsville, he eventually returns to find that he and his fellow soldiers have grown. They had learned more about themselves then they ever believed possible. The young soldier becomes a man with plenty of courage by the end of this book.
Stephen Crane brings the reader into his book, first with his power of describing details so eloquently, and second by telling us very little of the young soldiers' life, leaving him a mystery. Crane may have even been generalizing all the young soldiers into one. Although he does tell the reader his name, Henry Flemming, he usually refers to him as "The soldier." He also tells the reader parts of his life up until present, but most of the character is left very much in the dark. It is known however that Henry grew up on a small farm in New York, where his father had died early, and he had grown up fairly sheltered. His mother brings this fact out by persisting that Henry not join the army, and by giving him a stern warning as she sends him off to camp.
When we first meet henry with his regiment, the 304th New York, he is bored and even lonesome wishing to return to the farm. As time passes at the camp, Henry begins to realize that being a hero in the war may not be as easy as he once had dreamed. The inner conflict begins with Henry wondering about how he will react when the battle begins, if he will run like a chicken, or stay a fight bravely. In the first battle fought Henry fights bravely, but as time goes by in the second battle, he becomes both tired and scared and runs away from the enemy and his fears. He ends up rationalizing his fear with the fact that he knew that the regiment would lose. He soon finds out however, they won, and he begins to run faster from the thought of chickening out of the battle. This only adds to Henry's internal emotional conflict with himself.
Henry becomes so threatened by the other soldiers that he returns with a wound from a rock and tells that he was wounded by the enemy while fighting for another regiment. He begins to boast, and complain about the general's actions to make himself feel better about what had happened and build a barrier so the other soldiers don't find out what had really happened. However, as the second day of fighting appears on the horizon, Henry finds himself acting upon his instinct and not so much his lies. Henry begins to fight heroically and bravely and forgets what had happened up until this point.
As the story develops itself and we find Henry running into the woods away from the battle, we find out more about the character emotionally and what he is like inside and not just outside. As Henry battles with himself emotionally and fears the battle that is going on outside that he has run from, he learns more about himself and begins the process of growing up. Henry encounters many things on his escape from reality that turn his travels even more trying. One of these such things is when he finds a dead body that has been there for quite sometime, now being grotesquely described by Crane.
Young Henry also sees nature as he has never seen it before. From the perspective of a great fear that has overtaken his entire body. He ends up looking at nature with a new found respect that he never knew before. At one point he sees a squirrel that is busily running through the forest. Henry throws a pine cone at the small animal and as it runs away he begins to tell himself that his running away was just like the squirrels. He had sensed fear too great and ran from it
Throughout Henrys trying experiences' one of the greatest is his venture through the forest. He begins to think about those things that are important to him. Even more powerful in his mind is the fact that all he wanted to be was a hero and he ran from the opportunity. His emotional conflict becomes so strong and Crane makes the reader so involved that the reader begins to sense the pain and suffering that Henry is dealing with inside. Even more powerful then all of Henry's thoughts of fears though, was his fear of being made fun of by the other soldiers.
The strongest literary element in this book is Cranes power of description.
Throughout the book Crane uses these descriptions to keep the reader involved and
interested. It would seem that Crane makes it so that everything that the young soldier Henry sees on his journey you see too, from his exact point of view. The description that Crane uses throughout the book makes the book, without it the conflicts that the character has would not be as evident and not as strong to the reader.
Stephen Crane also uses his powerful descriptions in the parts of the book where the character is fighting battles. He puts the reader in the face of the enemy and describes to them every last detail making the reader know, as close to possible, what every detail was like. If Crane had made the battles any less dramatic, the reader would have had a hard time following what Henry was having an emotional conflict about. Since Crane put you right there in the battle, you also felt the way that Henry did.
The Red Badge of Courage although often looked at from a more psychological level is very easy to read, and catches the reader's attention from the first chapter. A person might often wonder what it was like to fight in a war like the Civil War, and what they would have done in such a position. The Red Badge of Courage puts the reader in the barracks with the rest of the soldiers fighting against the South. Stephen Crane used the young soldiers inner and outer battles to give the reader a true idea of what it must have been like.
The reader will visualize the battles, smell the gunpowder, hear the guns, and sense everything else that happens throughout the book due to Crane's use of description. The reader even begins to feel and sympathize with Henry's emotions and feelings. The Red Badge of Courage deserves to be grabbed firmly by its cover and read without stopping.
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