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__________________________Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane

 


STUDYWORLD STUDYNOTES

The Red Badge of Courage

Quick/Fast Review

It is often called America’s first great war novel, yet Stephen Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage is more than just a tale about the civil war. In the course of a few battles from this bloody conflict, Crane shows us the maturing of a youth, Henry Fleming. We meet Henry as a naïve young man, seeking glory, yet unprepared for life on the front lines, and leave him much wiser and more mature. Henry, hardened and tested by the war, grows and matures, finally learning the true meaning of courage.

We are introduced to Henry as he prepares to enlist in the Union army, leaving his mother and their farm home behind. The young Fleming lives a sheltered and protected life seen by his mother’s protective warning: "You watch out, Henry, an’ take good care of yerself in this fighting business . . . Don’t go a-thinkin’ you can lick the hull rebel army at the start, because yeh can’t" (5). His delusions of grandeur, "His busy mind [drawing]for him large pictures extravagant in color, lurid with breathless deeds" are brought to light when we see his impatient thoughts toward his mother’s farewell, and his heroic feelings as he visits his old school.

Henry quickly finds out that the 304th infantry is not as romantic, nor as comfortable, as he had expected. The soldiers feel bored and restless; the green regimen has yet to face a battle, and Henry feels insecure and apprehensive. He wrestles internally about whether he will fight heroically or turn and run, and fears that, unlike himself, ". . . all of the untried men possess a great and correct confidence" (12).

The first battle proves the first test of Henry’s character. We see him caught up in the skirmish and its excitement, and at first fighting well. However, after his regimen thinks the battle is over, it starts up again, this time ebbing in the other direction. Henry’s insecurity and inexperience cause him to panic, throw down his rifle, and flee "like a rabbit" (46). The youth tries to justify his actions by telling himself that his unit would have surely died. When he later learns that the battle had been won, his justification is shattered and he pins his cowardice on the actions of his comrades, just like a little child: ‘They did it first, and I just followed.’

Feeling sorry for himself, and seemingly lost, Henry wanders out into the woods, where again his youthful insecurity emerges. He stumbles upon the badly decomposed body of a fellow union soldier, and panics, becoming even more disoriented. Fleming meets up with his friend Jim Conklin and watches as he painfully dies. Henry realizes war has a side he had not earlier envisioned, death.

Henry’s character takes a painful turn for the better when a retreating Union soldier brains him, literally knocking sense into him. He finally returns to his camp and, to his surprise, is not made fun of for his retreat, but given respect and sympathy for his ‘war injury.’ Although childishly deceitful in not correcting his fellow soldiers’ mistakes about his injury, Henry gains his self-respect back, and temporarily forgets of his cowardice.

A more abrupt change in character, fostered by the confidence he has just gained, comes the second time Henry enters battle. Able to forget his previous cowardice, the youth acts on bare instinct and fights valiantly, so much so that he must be told to stop shooting much after the battle has ended. Henry gains new confidence after his superiors commend him for his actions, but this is somewhat shadowed by the immature bragging he does afterward.

Henry, while far from being wise, becomes mature at the end of the book. His attitude and character are a far cry from the selfish youth Crane introduced in the beginning of the book. Henry’s concepts of war are shattered, but in the process his character will be strengthened.


 

  • Biography of Stephen Crane

  • Quick/Fast Review

  • Character List

  • Comprehensive Summary and Review of Chapter 1-6

  • Comprehensive Summary and Review of Chapter 7-9

  • Comprehensive Summary and Review of Chapter 10-12

  • Comprehensive Summary and Review of Chapter 13-15

  • Comprehensive Summary and Review of Chapter 16-19

  • Comprehensive Summary and Review of Chapter 20-24

  • Studyworld Essay Search on The Red Badge of Courage


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