The Red Badge of Courage

Introduction The Red Badge of Courage

Stephen Crane’s acclaimed anti-war novel, The Red Badge of Courage, was first published in 1895, gaining matchless popularity. The novel was adapted as a textbook for schools and colleges, enabling the writer to influence young readers. The story of the novel presents Henry Fleming flying the flag of the Union Army takes to his heel fearing his life in danger. Yet the war rarely shows the individual’s fears or feelings, making him rather a hero of the regiment and the war.

Summary of The Red Badge of Courage

The story of the novel starts with the 304 infantry battalion waiting near a river to ambush the Federalists. The veterans tell the new lot about mad, gray, and rampaging hordes, but the young protagonist, Henry Flaming, does not believe the veracity of their tales. Instead, he recalls his fanciful intentions and ideological reasons for enlisting, against his mother’s ideas that war is realism with all bad men and not always glorification and patriotism. He ponders on his own wavering thinking whether he will display bravery, courage, and determination during the battle. When his first encounter with the enemy arrives, he blindly fires into the battle haze and flees in panic even though his company pushes the advancing soldiers back.

After fighting hard with his negative impulses, he regains his senses and gets back to the battle he has fled. Soon, the most awaited moment arrives when his regiment faces the brutal conflict. As they line up to fight, Wilson, the fellow soldier, hands over Henry a packet of letters to dispatch to his family, believing he may not live to see them again. Meanwhile, the sound of gunfire, bullets, and shells approaches them. Although the severity of the condition takes them to the bones, they fight courageously until the enemy retreats, inviting a slight pause in the fighting.

This blunt encounter provides Henry a chance to overcome the dreadful horrors of war. This time he feels slightly different; he compares enemies with wild animals waiting to swallow him. Once again, the fear overcomes Henry, and he runs from the battle. Finally, he stops near an officer who announces his regiment’s victory. He feels ashamed of his action but gathers the courage to face the insult.

While returning, he sees a band of wounded soldiers, moaning and limping around the road. The wounds on them look like a ‘red badge of courage’ and become envious of them. One of the soldiers, named as “tattered soldier” tries to approach Henry and asks him where he has been wounded in the war. His questions further stoke Henry’s guilt and cause him embarrassment. He avoids the question and rushes toward the crowd, leaving the tattered soldier behind, where he finds his fellow soldier, Jim Conklin, wounded and half-dead. He tries to help Jim, but Jim runs away into the fields where he succumbs to death where both the tattered soldier and Henry watch him die. While wandering in the woods, the tattered soldier constantly asks him where Henry was wounded. This constant questioning keeps triggering the self-hatred and guilt in him, leading Henry to leave the tattered soldier to die in the woods.

Later, Henry again hears the battle’s horrific noises and encounters the troops heading up to the front. This time, the fight is against the Union forces, forcing the soldiers to flee. He tries to approach one of the retreating soldiers; instead of treating him nicely, the soldier strikes Henry on his head with the rifle and departs, leaving him amid pain and despair. Startled by the hard-hit, he tries to find his way back, where he finds a cheery soldier, Wilson who helps him find his way back. He fears being bashed by the officials on his return, but when he enters the camp, Simpson and Wilson offer him a rousing welcome assuming that he has been shot on the battlefield.

As the regiment prepares for the fight, Wilson inquires him about the packet of letters he has given to Henry for his family, assuming he would not see the dawn again. This inquiry becomes the turning point in his life; he realizes that Wilson is also afraid of the battle and that he has overcome his fears. He feels relieved and discovers that he possesses the weapon and power to act out his will. This realization restores his shattered courage and converts his grave fears of war into anger against the enemy.

In the next battle, Henry fights bravely and receives praise from the lieutenant. However, he overhears an officer talking that the 304th fight like ‘mule driver’ and ‘mud diggers’ which enrages Henry and wanted to prove him wrong. Keeping himself aligned with this resolute stance, he takes up the Union flag that gets shot down and receives a warming appraisal. Similarly, in the last battle, he shows up the same stamina in the war and captures the Confederate flag, bringing a tremendous victory for his regiment. After capturing the enemy flag and taking four prisoners back with them, Henry reflects on his recent experiences where he left the tattered soldier in the woods and falls into the guilt trap but then he realizes that he has transformed. Crane ends the story with Henry’s self-actualization when he readily accepts his courage and cowardice.

Major Themes in The Red Badge of Courage

  1. Courage: Courage is the central theme of the novel, The Red Badge of Courage. It represents the journey of a romantic young man, Henry Fleming, enthralled with romanticized ideas of courage derived from classic literature. He gets enlisted in the army, having a fanciful notion of heroism and nobility, but the great violence the war brings muddles his notions of glory and courage. Instead, the horrific warfare redefines his ideas about courage that battle is not about filling your mind with ideal heroes of classic heroes; it rather demands a strong survival instinct to make progress amidst terror and turmoil.
  2. Manhood: Manhood is another central theme of the novel. Throughout the story, the protagonist, Henry Fleming, tries to preserve his manhood. At first, he perceives masculinity as being a bold soldier who goes headlong into a ferocious battle, intending to win. However, his ideas about masculinity change when he realizes that true masculinity does not match his previous ideas which have after the final battle. It rather links with the acceptance of oneself to understand what is worth risking our lives for.
  3. Solitude: Solitude is another dominant theme of the storyline. The author presents physical and emotional isolation in the novel through Henry Fleming. Henry joins the army with a strange notion of heroism, feels very isolated from the rest of the regiment. He seems plagued by fear and doubts that make him feel like an alien. However, when he sits alone, separated from the hustle of the war, he purposefully reflects the truths about himself that ultimately lead to his growth from immaturity to maturity.
  4. Personal Growth: The novel shows the positive side of human nature: to accept the grave realities of life and to plan goals accordingly. Henry Fleming goes through significant growth throughout the battle that snatches his fears and doubts and transforms him from a selfish, immature boy to a courageous and self-made soldier. He becomes rather too confident to join the next war.
  5. Human Life: Henry’s realization that nature works on its set own principles regardless of the living standards, and the end of human life is the most important lesson he learns on the battlefield. It brings him down to earth along with his immature beliefs regarding manhood and courage. When Henry encounters a squirrel in the forest, he stumbles upon a corpse whose pathetic situation serves as a reminder that nature’s approach is indifferent to man’s life. As soon as he understands the reality of war, questions related to the nature of courage, honor, and glory continue to hammer his mind. First, he thinks that only death can bring peace to life, but his encounter with the corpse makes him realize that death is just an essential part of the natural world.
  6. Warfare: Warfare is the novel’s central theme as the book centers on the American Civil War. The story does not present that war from a broader vantage point. It presents it from the eyes of a young and inexperienced soldier who takes time to understand the true nature of the war and the notions associated with it. Through Henry’s character, Crane establishes that psychological battles are more significant than physical fighting.
  7. Respect and Duty: Henry, as a young soldier, tries his best to prove himself a worthy soldier, but his fears of getting wounded and dying hinder his progress. Initially, he holds himself back from enlisting for a long time but finally, a sense of duty compels him to join the army and help the ailing forces. He believes that his military services will instill in him a sense of manhood and honor despite his mother’s resentment about war. When Henry fails to fulfill his duties as a soldier, the sense of guilt and shame makes him feel as if he has brought dishonor to his regiment.
  8. Cowardice: The first twelve chapter of the novel explains Henry’s cowardice and fear related to war. After fleeing the first battle, he comes across a dying tattered soldier and abandons him instead of helping him or feeling sorry for his condition. His callous selfishness is sparked when the tattered soldier inquires about his wounds, leading him to agonize his lack of courage in the battle. He starts thinking about the other soldiers’ reactions once the truth about his weakness is revealed. He also that he has missed many opportunities to be realistic and loyal. Henry lacks the courage to tell his fellowmen that he has run away from the battlefield because he was afraid of inevitable death.
  9. Dehumanization: The novel also reflects the murky side of human nature that once they are into war, they work on the principle of might is right as shown by the brutal nature of the war soldiers, specifically through Henry Fielding, for he does not take care of the soldiers dying in the battle and flee as soon as he sees a chance. The hunting approach of the armies and their inhumane use of ammunition in the face of conflict is the dehumanization of nature.
  10. Loss of Innocence: The loss of innocence in the novel is shown in how Henry Fleming undergoes a significant change after confronting masculine violence in the battle. Henry’s attitude toward the War is of a soldier having responsibility. However, when he suffers through the brutalities of war, it seems that he eventually loses his innocence, as he turns into an extremely violent person that is equivalent to savagery.

Major Characters in The Red Badge of Courage

  1. Henry Fleming: The character of the novel Henry Fleming is referred to as “the youth,” and the storyline revolves around his mental conflict in the war. Full with positive vibes in the initial stage, he joins the army with his preconceived notions related to the glory of war and heroism. The bitter realities of the warfare, however, make him stand on the verge of doubts and fear. Being derived from the negative impulses, he fails to act like a soldier. Later, his guilt and shame prompt him to fight courageously and earn lifelong glory.
  2. Wilson: Wilson is another central character of the story. He is Henry’s friend, who takes care of him when he gets wounded. Initially, he is referred to as “a loud soldier” with a pragmatic and arrogant approach. However, as the story continues, his pragmatic approach changes him into a compassionate veteran who shows concern for his comrades. Unlike Henry, he also fears death and gives Henry a pack of letters to deliver to his family should he lose his life in the battle. Surprisingly, this incident proves a turning point in Henry’s life, who considers Wilson’s desire a sign of weakness and uses these letters to restore his faith and courage.
  3. The Tall Soldier (Jim Conklin): Jim Conklin is shown as a confident and optimistic soldier who encourages the young lads by telling them stories related to warfare. He gets badly wounded in the first battle and dies hopelessly in front of Henry, leaving Henry shocked.
  4. The Tattered Soldier: He is one of the wounded soldiers who tries to ask Henry about his performance in the battle and inquires him of his wounds. His inquiry about the injuries makes Henry feel guilt and shame. He leaves the wounded man wandering in the same place where Jim dies – an incident that later haunts him.
  5. The Cheery Soldier: He is a union soldier who befriends Henry after receiving a head injury from a retreating soldier. He helps Henry find his way back to the regiment on the first day of the battle.  
  6. Henry’s Mother: She appears only in the opening chapter of the novel where she seems annoyed by his son’s choices. She does not support Henry’s glorified vision of war. Instead, she advises her son to avoid sinful acts and choose the right path even during trying times.
  7. The Corporal (Simpson): One of the officers of Henry’s regiment, Simpson, takes care of Henry’s head injury, thinking Henry may get wounded on the battlefield. 
  8. Jimmie Rogers: Jimmie also shares Henry’s regiment. Unfortunately, he meets his tragic death on the second day of battle.

Writing Style of The Red Badge of Courage

The writing style of the novel, The Red Badge of Courage, shows the impressive yet straightforward approach of the author, Stephen Crane, in that he fictionalizes the man at war and the reality of war. He tries to reflect reality as well as upon it with its dual perspectives by using a persuasive writing style. The skillful usage of colloquial language and deliberate unfitting grammatical structures show how Crane has given his text a realistic touch and individualistic feel. Having used formal diction, simple sentence structure, and serious tone, Crane, presenting the patterned reality of warfare in this acclaimed novel.

‎ Analysis of Literary Devices in The Red Badge of Courage

  1. Allegory: Crane presents “the red badge of courage” as an allegorical representation of the wounds soldiers receive during the war.
  2. Action: The rising action of the novel, The Red Badge of Courage, occurs when Henry Fleming has a scuffle with another soldier he encounters in the battle and who hits him hard in the head, which ironically becomes “the red badge of courage.”
  3. Climax: The climax occurs when Henry Fleming keeps his cowardice hidden from his comrades and becomes a fearless soldier. It leads Henry to understand the real meanings of courage and bravery.
  4. Conflict: There are various conflicts in the novel The Red Badge of Courage. The first one is Henry’s internal conflict in which he tries to mask himself in multiple instances to prove himself as a better soldier. The other conflicts involve man versus man, man versus nature, and man versus self.
  5. Characters: The Red Badge of Courage presents both static as well as dynamic personalities. Henry Fleming is the central character, while Henry’s mother, tattered soldier, Jim Conklin, and Wilson are the minor characters. However, it is Henry who struggles to shape and reshape his beliefs and undergoes changes. Therefore, he is a dynamic character, while Wilson remains the same throughout the novel, the reason that he is a static character along with various other minor characters.
  6. Epithets: It refers to a characterizing phrase or a word used in place of a person’s name or thing. Crane has used epithets to emphasize some of the characters. Some of the examples are; Jim Conklin is known as “the tall soldier,” Henry Flaming, known as “youth,” and Wilson, and known as “loud soldier.”
  7. Foreshadowing: It refers to the advance hint or what comes later in the story. The protagonist of the novel continues to fear what would happen if he was in the battle. His constant worry predicts the cowardice that led him to run from the battlefield.
    i. The cold passed reluctantly from the earth, and the retiring fogs revealed an army stretched out on the hills, resting. As the landscape changed from brown to green, the army awakened, and began to tremble with eagerness at the noise
    of rumors. (Chapter-1)
    ii. The next morning the youth discovered that his tall comrade had been the fast-flying messenger of a mistake. There was much scoffing at the latter by those who had yesterday been firm adherents of his views, and there was even a little
    sneering by men who had never believed the rumor. (Chapter-2)
    iii. In regard to his companions his mind wavered between two opinions, according to his mood. Sometimes he inclined to believing them all heroes. (Chapter-2)
    These three extracts point out the coming events. For example, the first mentions army, the second comrade and the third heroes which point out that the war is going to take place.
  8. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example,
    i. As the hillsides changed from brown to green, the army awakened and began to tremble with eagerness at the talk of battle. A river, yellow-colored, curled at the army’s feet. At night, when the stream had become a sorrowful blackness, one could see across it the red, eye-like glow of enemy campfires in the distant hills. (Chapter-1)
    ii. The noise in front grew to a mighty roar. The youth and his companions were frozen to silence. They could see a flag that whipped in the smoke angrily. Near it were moving forms of troops. There came a rushing stream of men across the fields. Another group, changing position at a fast pace, scattered them right and left. (Chapter-4)
    iii. After a time the sound of rifles grew faint, and the large guns roared in the distance. The sun, suddenly apparent, shone among the trees. (Chapter-7)
    The first example shows the images used for nature and sound, the second is for sound, and the third again for colors and sounds.
  9. Irony: The Red Badge of Courage shows situational irony as the coward, weak and reluctant youth, Henry, ends up becoming a fierce soldier.
    His emotions made him feel strange in the presence of men who talked excitedly of a prospective battle as of a drama they were about to witness, with nothing but eagerness and curiosity apparent in their faces. It was often that he suspected them to be liars. (Chapter-2)
    ii. Veteran regiments in the army were likely to be very small aggregations of men. Once, when the command had first come to the field, some preambulating veterans, noting the length of their column, had accosted them thus: “Hey,
    fellers, what brigade is that?” And when the men had replied that they formed a regiment and not a brigade,5 the older soldiers had laughed, and said, “O Gawd!” (Chapter-3)
    Both of these examples show the meanings that are different from those ones given in these lines.
  10. Metaphor: The Red Badge of Courage shows good use of various metaphors as given in the examples below,
    i. In the eastern sky there was a yellow patch like a rug laid for the feet of the coming sun; and against it, black and patternlike, loomed the gigantic figure of the colonel on the gigantic horse. (Chapter-2).
    ii. It was a goddess, radiant, that bended its form with an imperious gesture to him. It was a woman, red and white, hating and loving, that called him with the voice of his hopes. (Chapter-19)
    The first metaphor compares the sound to the yellow rug to the sunset and the second flag to women.
  11. Mood: The novel shows a joyous and celebrating mood in the beginning but turns to serious and tragic as Henry faces troubles in the battlefield and his war experiences change his fanciful notions related to war.
  12. Motif: The most important motifs of the novel are animal images, noise versus silence, youth, and maturity.
  13. Point of ViewThe Red Badge of Courage is told in a third-person point of view or third-person omniscient perspective that is the author’s point of view.
  14. Protagonist: Henry Flaming is the protagonist of the novel. The novel starts with the description of his childish and innocent perception of war and involves various gruesome incidents that become the reason for his significant transformation.
  15. Personification: Personification occurs in chapter nineteen when Henry compares the flag with “radiant goddess” and to a beautiful woman as given in the examples below,
    i. He became aware that the furnace roar of the battle was growing louder. Great brown clouds had floated to the still heights of air before him. The noise, too, was approaching. The woods filtered men and the fields became dotted. (Chapter-11)
    ii. The column that had butted stoutly at the obstacles in the roadway was barely out of the youth’s sight before he saw dark waves of men come sweeping out of the woods and down through the fields. (Chapter-12)
    The first example shows battle and woods as if they have a life of their own, while the second example shows the same thing through the column.
  16. Resolution: Resolution is when all the mysteries, conflicts, and problems reach a conclusion. The Red Badge of Courage ends with a meaningful transformation of Henry Flaming, a point where he accepts both his courage and cowardice.
  17. Theme: The Red Badge of Courage shows not only the realism of war from a young soldier’s point of view but also man’s adaptive nature, and how he transforms himself when confronted with a challenging situation.
  18. Simile: The novel shows good use of various similes. For example,
    i. They were bursting from their coats and their equipments as from entanglements. They charged down upon him like terrified buffaloes. (Chapter-12)
    ii. The corporal went away. The youth remained on the ground like a parcel. (Chapter-13)
    iii. The men took positions behind a curving line of rifle pits that had been
    turned up, like a large furrow, along the line of woods. (Chapter-16)
    The first example compares soldiers with buffaloes, the second the youth with a parcel, and the third the pits with furrows.
  19. Symbol: The Red Badge of Courage shows the symbols of flags, corpses, and the red badge of courage. Whereas the flag represents victory, corpses show the reality of life, and the red badge of courage is the symbol of bravery.
  20. Setting: The setting of the novel, The Red Badge of Courage, is the Civil War; most likely a fictional Battle at Chancellorsville.

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