Stephen Crane, born in 1871, was the fourteenth child of a Methodist minister. During college, he was a journalist and wrote for newspapers. He never finished college but wrote two novels before the age of 25 establishing himself as a great writer. Those two novels were Maggie: a Girl of the Streets and The Red Badge of Courage. Suprisingly, before writing The Red Badge of Courage, Crane had never been to war. Afterwards, he saw a lot of it traveling to different places around the world as a journalist. Crane wrote The Red Badge of Courage in ten nights. Other works include The Open Boat and The OíRuddy. Crane died in June of 1900 from Tuberculosis. The Red Badge of Courage deals with courage and cowardice in war. It shows that manís action in war are not truly his own. He does what war makes him do.
The book starts out with a new regiment for the Union army waiting around for some fighting. Jim Conklin, a friend of the main character Henry Fleming, hears some rumors about their next movements. He tells the other soldiers of the rumors telling them that their going to go around the enemy and attack them from behind. Sure enough, a few days later, they start marching and they attack. This is the first battle for the regiment so a few soldiers, including Henry Fleming, desert the regiment.
After Henry deserts, he finds Jim and walks with him for a while before Jim dies. Henry wanders about a bit and gets in a fight with another lost soldier of the Union army who hits him across the head with the butt of his rifle causing Henry to bleed. By night, Henry, with the help of another soldier, find his way back to his own regiment. Luckily, no one suspects Henry of deserting and lies about his head wound as being from the battle. During the night, Henry is cared for by a friend named Wilson.
By morning, Henry is well rested and fights with his regiment several battles that day. Henry always stayed in the front and encouraged the other soldiers to fight harder showing much courage. He was complimented by the Colonel, but despite his victory, he still feels guilty about deserting his regiment the day before.
The events in The Red Badge of Courage are at some places contrived. Some events in the book donít seem to have sufficient reason for them. For example. Wilson has changed a lot when Henry saw him the night of the desertion. Before Wilson was rude and loud mouthed but after having a near death experience on the battle field, he changed from his previous attitude to someone who would humble himself to the point of acting as a nurse to a fellow friend. Itís surprising to see that Wilson didnít come shouting out of the battle screaming that heíd beaten death, something similar to the way that Henry treating the head wound as a battle wound. Also, the change in Henry seems to be without reason. In his first battle, he feared for his life and deserted. He never admitted his desertion but it was always in his mind ... except at the next battle. He went from one extreme to the other. He never doubted his power against the rebels once. He thought about death but not the same way that he did the previous day. His actions would have been expected of someone who beat the odds victoriously in a previous battle but not from someone who fled for his life.
The book was enough to keep my interest near the end. It started out slow but near halfway, it started to pick up speed as the regiment began to fight and there was enough conflict to keep my attention there. The book was, however, overall rather slow and I had to work to continue reading.
The incidents in the story are believable within the context of the story. It is realistic. All the battles could have taken place and the outcome could have happened the way that it did in the book. The ending did come naturally out of the story, but I didnít like it. I thought it ended to soon and didnít give us the whole story. For example, the book told us that Henryís mother didnít want Henry to enter the military, so what happened to her? How did she react hearing about Henryís courageous (and cowardly) behavior in the army? What happened to the rest of the war? Did Henry go home after those two days of fighting? The book left some loose ends.
I donít think I truly understood the main character, Henry Fleming. His actions could have been those of any man and nothing much was really done or said to set him apart from the other soldiers or other people. His faults and his virtues werenít very believable. They were not his own faults and virtues. However, I believe this is a point that Crane was trying to get across. Your actions in war are not your own but a result of the war.
I couldnít sympathize with the main characters. I didnít ďfealĒ their problems and they stayed distant from me. I think, in a way, the author might have meant for this. Crane didnít use the characters names when writing about the character or his actions but used descriptions instead. He called Henry the youth, Jim the tall soldier, and Wilson the loud soldier. This does much to distance the reader from the characters so possibly the author didnít want us to sympathize with the characters.
Crane repeats after Henry fought the battles on the second day, Henry became a man. This would imply that there was some change in Henry during the fighting but I didnít see it. Sure, being a coward and running from the battle and being a hero fighting in the front are diametrically different things but they were both caused by the same thing, not from a change in Henry mind. Both were caused by the fear and the adrenaline of the fighting. If Henry didnít have the adrenaline rush and was clear headed, I doubt he would have stayed in the front and become a hero. He might have again run from the fighting.
The dialogue was something that was done well. It was simple and true to the character. Crane, for certain characters, wrote their dialogues differently showing either a lack of education or an accent. Their speech was never flowery and was always real speech.
Henry Fleming (the youth): Henry was the main character of this novel. He was at first very anxious about war and joined the army against his motherís will. At first, being new to war, he acted as a coward and deserted his regiment, but later, he was a hero encouraging the other soldiers to fight harder.
Jim Conklin (the tall soldier): Jim was a close friend that Henry had met in the army. He was shot and Henry suffered watching him die.
Wilson (the loud soldier): Wilson was another friend that Henry had met in the army. At first, he was loud and obnoxious (hence the title ďthe loud soldierĒ), but after experiencing battle, he became kind and helped Henry when he became wounded.
The setting was real and depicted accurately. The fighting happened in a forest and the forest was depicted the way a forest should look. The was trees and one solitary house. The appearance of the forest didnít become more drab just because their was fighting as happens in other books but stayed the same forest. Henry noticed how even in the fighting, the sun continued to shine. Nothing changed, just like nothing would in a real battle. The setting really isnít very important to the story. The only effect it has on the characters is that it gives them a place to fight and it frustrates them so much giving them a hard time marching from place to place.
Craneís style was short and simple. His sentences were never very long or flowery. Every sentence had a meaning and none was there to sound nice. His style is easy to understand. He doesnít use as much figurative language as does some other authors, but he does use some. for example, he described the canopy of the forest like a cathedral when Jim died. I enjoyed his style because it made reading quick and easy, but it is not memorable.
The recurring theme in this book was that Henry and his fellow soldiers werenít the author of their actions during the heat of battle. They fought despite the risk of death not because of love for their country but for adrenaline. They never once talked about why they fought, they just fought. Henryís heroism wasnít because he was truly brave, but again because of the adrenaline added to his anger at deserting the first time. Wilsonís change wasnít his own but the result of the war. By himself, he never would have become the nurse he was to Henry. This theme is shown clearly throughout the book since it was always apparent in every action after the first battle.
How this applies to our own life, I really donít know. We donít risk death every day and we donít fight like they did. But perhaps it shows that we need something as powerful as war to truly make our passage into manhood as Henry did.
The Red Badge of Courage shows the effect war has on man. His courage or his cowardice doesnít stem from himself, but is given to him at the start of war by the war itself. These people, if they stopped to think about it during the battle, would have seen the stupidity in their actions. They stood there and fired at each other with people dropping like flyís. Normally this would cause most anyone to flee but because of the war, these soldiers didnít. The Red Badge of Courage succeeded in deglamourizing war showing that itís not a string of heroic acts and the heroic acts are not truly heroic acts. It shows that war is war and the soldiers are still just men who can go crazy with this much stress. The book fails however at tying up the ending or really taking us into the psyche of Henry, something this book dealt much about. This book became a classic for what it succeeded in doing. It was different from other books about war by catching the actual spirit of the war. War controls.