Grade level: 9-12 subject area: Literature credit

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War Literature


Two class periods




Alisa Soderquist, English teacher, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology, Alexandria, Virginia.


Students will understand the following:

1. Crane examined war-related themes in prose and poetry.

2. Close study of a poem for oral presentation helps readers see meaning or techniques not noted earlier.

3. Not all readers give the same answers to questions about a poem; more than one answer may be acceptable.


For this lesson, you will need:

Several of Stephen Crane's poems about war from his collections The Black Riders and Other Lines (1895) and War Is Kind (1899), perhaps the most famous of which is reprinted here: War Is Kind


Do not weep, maiden, for war is kind.

Because your lover threw wild hand toward the sky

And the affrighted steed ran on alone,

Do not weep.

War is kind.


Hoarse, booming drums of the regiment,

Little souls who thirst for fight,

These men were born to drill and die.

The unexplained glory flies above them,

Great is the Battle-God, great, and his Kingdom—

A field where a thousand corpses lie.


Do not weep, babe, for war is kind.

Because your father tumbled in the yellow trenches,

Raged at his breast, gulped and died,

Do not weep.

War is kind.


Swift blazing flag of the regiment,

Eagle with crest of red and gold

These men were born to drill and die.

Point for them the virtue of slaughter,

Make plain to them the excellence of killing

And a field where a thousand corpses lie.


Mother whose heart hung humble as a button

On the bright splendid shroud of your son,

Do not weep.

War is kind.
Table and chairs that can be arranged for panel discussion in front of audience

1. Inform students that Crane wrote not only realistic fiction such as The Red Badge of Courage but also short and bitter poems, some of which deal with war. Assign a different Crane war poem to each group of students, who will be responsible for presenting an oral interpretation of the poem and a panel discussion about the poem and their interpretation of it.

2. Teach or review the fundamentals of oral interpretation of literature:
- The group might begin by individually reading the poem silently and then aloud.
- The group must think about and discuss the meaning of the poem as well as its craft: sound (repetition, alliteration, onomatopoeia, rhyme), language (word choice, imagery, figurative language), and form (stanza division).
- Based on early thoughts about meaning and craft, the group must decide who will read which lines during the presentation. Will only one student read? Two in unison? All in unison? Will the students share the reading by stanza?
- During rehearsals, students should mark up the poem to indicate where to pause, where to place emphasis, where to change tone and pacing.
- Assure students that it is not unusual to make revisions in oral presentations during the rehearsal period.
- The oral presentation cannot just start. One of the students should write and speak an introduction, including of course the name of the poem by Crane. The student should try to catch the audience's attention with the introduction and be clear where the introduction ends and where the poem itself begins.
- Advise students to stand when they read from their marked-up poems, to speak slowly and clearly enough for the audience to absorb the poem, and occasionally to make eye contact with the audience.

3. Give students time to work in their groups, figuring out the meaning of the poem, determining how to present it orally (see previous step), and planning the details of the panel discussion (see following step). Perhaps the group will decide that each student should become familiar with the general meaning and craft of the poem and also have responsibility for a detailed study of one particular aspect of the poem—say, its sound, language, or form.

4. Go over the basics of panel discussions about literature:
- The panel is made up of experts (often five or six) about the literature and the author.
- The discussion consists mostly of remarks by the members of the panel to questions and comments from a moderator and other members of the panel.
- The questions posed by the students can ask for facts or opinions.

5. Elicit or summarize the moderator's responsibilities in a panel discussion:

- Setting up the room to make discussion easy and to help the audience hear questions and responses
- Explaining why the panel has been brought together
- If necessary, introducing each member of the panel (There should be a name tent, or placard, for each panelist to sit behind.)
- Clearly stating each question, directing it to the panel at large or to one individual, then giving other members of the panel a chance to respond
- Calling on panelists who indicate they have questions for one another
- Noting for the audience what points panelists seem to agree on and what points they seem to disagree on
- Watching the time and eliminating some planned questions if necessary
- Opening the floor to questions from the audience
- Summing up the discussion and thanking participants and audience members

6. Direct the students in the group to work together to discuss what questions the moderator should ask the panelists during the actual panel discussion and to decide who will be the lead-off panelist in answering each question. During this working session, all students, not just the moderator, should contribute to a list of questions. The following list includes sample questions that a moderator might ask about “War Is Kind.” Point out to students that the sample questions cover a broad range of issues related to the poem.

- Who among the panelists would like to comment on why you read the three appearances of the line “War is kind” as you did in your group's oral presentation? What were you trying to get across to the audience?
- What are your thoughts on the specific word kind?
- Would the poem have worked just as well with only stanzas 1, 3, and 5? What do stanzas 2 and 4 add to the poem?
- Do you like this poem? Why or why not?
- In what ways is this poem similar to elements in The Red Badge of Courage? In what ways in this poem different from the novel?

7. Proceed with the panel discussion. See Evaluation regarding a postmortem on the strengths and weaknesses of the participants.

Play the role of the moderator yourself, controlling the difficulty and intensity of the questions you ask the panelists.

1. Although The Red Badge of Courageis a story about the Civil War, list the ways it is also a symbolic story about every war.
2. Discuss Crane's use of irony in The Red Badge of Courage.
3. Analyze the effect of Crane's frequent use of descriptive tags—such as “the youth,” “the tall soldier,” or “the loud one”—to refer to the characters, rather than the use of their actual names.
4. Compare Henry Fleming to the main characters in other war stories you have read; how is he similar, and how is he different?
5. Debate the statement that war can possess beauty.
6. Discuss the idea that every individual is capable of heroic actions.
7. Analyze the idea of “badges of courage” in contemporary society; identify some symbols or tokens of courage and debate their validity.

With the students who will be in the audience, consider developing an evaluation chart that they can use to rate the group's oral presentation and each student's participation in the panel discussion. Categories for rating the group as a whole and the individual participants might include the following:
- Expressiveness of performance
- Delivery style of performance
- Familiarity with the poem during panel discussion
- Clear, easy-to-hear speaking skills during panel discussion
- Level of participation in panel discussion
You may suggest students use symbols to indicate how the group or a participant performs on each measure—perhaps “+” for “good,” “–” for “poor,” and “*” for “excellent.”


Collect the evaluation sheets. Review them, keeping in mind your own evaluation of each student. Meet with each participant individually to discuss his or her strengths and weaknesses.

Weapons of the American Civil War

One of the reasons the Civil War exacted such a huge toll of human lives is that the soldiers were fighting with new weapons, invented with the help of the technology of the time. Invite your students to research the weapons used for the first time in the Civil War and to generate written reports. Tell them that the audience for their reports is military leaders of the war. Suggest students' reports include a diagram of each of the new weapons, a statement of each weapon's properties and its superiority or inferiority to earlier weapons, and a safety warning.

Letters of War

Like the Civil War, the Vietnam War was an episode in which few Americans were left unscarred. In both cases, we have extensive primary sources in the form of letters from the soldiers, written to family and friends. Have your students find examples of those letters and then compare and contrast the feelings and attitudes expressed in them with those expressed in the fictional workThe Red Badge of Courage.

Twentieth Century Interpretations of Stephen Crane: A Collection of Critical Essays

Edited by Maurice Bassan. Prentice Hall, 1967.

Read these classic essays by famous writers on the meaning of Stephen Crane's life and works.
The Boys' War: Confederate and Union Soldiers Talk About the Civil War

Jim Murphy. Clarion Books, 1990.

An army statistician estimated that 250,000 to 420,000 boys aged 16 years and younger fought in the Civil War. Many wrote letters and memoirs describing their experiences during the war. These touching letters and memoirs are highlighted by photographs.

Red Badge of Courage by Project Gutenberg

A public domain copy of the e-text for the Red Badge of Courage is available here for downloading.
Stephen Crane History Page

A brief, but very useful, timeline of Crane's life and works.
Selected Poems by Stephen Crane

Selected poems by Crane that would enhance any unit of study on the Red Badge of Courage.
The Battle of Chancellorsville

Factual information on the battle at Chancellorsville, which Crane indicated in “The Veteran” was the site of the battle in Red Badge of Courage. Other Civil War battles noted here, too.

Stephen Crane, Man, Myth, & Legend

Sound clips, literary techniques, themes, characters, and issues in the novel.


A strong desire to achieve something high or great.


Young people with great career aspirations frequently move to the big city.


A state of being needy; lacking the necessities of life or healthful environmental influences.


Crane lived among the poor to understand what true deprivation was.


Hatefully or shockingly evil.


Desertion is one of the most heinous of military crimes.


Engrossed; absorbed.


The novel presents a young soldier immersed in the chaos of battle.


Soldiers trained, armed, and equipped to fight on foot.


It is always the infantry that bears the brunt of the battle.


Something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.


Stephen Crane left a writing legacy to modern reporters.


Vitally important; crucial.


The pivotal moment in the novel is when the youth fails and deserts the battle.


An expression of rebuke or disapproval.


Crane wanted his book Maggie, A Girl of the Streetsto be a reproach to the society that allowed poverty.

Grade Level:

6-8, 9-12

Subject Area:

language arts


Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies for reading a variety of literary texts.


(6-8)Knows the defining characteristics of a variety of literary forms and genres (e.g., fiction, nonfiction, myths, poems, fantasies, biographies, autobiographies, science fiction, tall tales, supernatural tales).

(9-12)Applies reading skills and strategies to a variety of literary texts (e.g., fiction, nonfiction, myths, poems, biographies, autobiographies, science fiction, supernatural tales, satires, parodies, plays, American literature, British literature, world and ancient literature).

(9-12)Knows the defining characteristics of a variety of literary forms and genres (e.g., fiction, nonfiction, myths, poems, biographies, autobiographies, science fiction, supernatural tales, satires, parodies, plays, American literature, British literature, world and ancient literature, the Bible).

(9-12)Identifies the simple and complex actions (e.g., internal/external conflicts) between main and subordinate characters in texts containing complex character structures.

(9-12)Makes abstract connections between his or her own life and the characters, events, motives, and causes of conflict in texts.

(9-12)Understands historical and cultural influences on literary works.
Grade Level:


Subject Area:



Demonstrates a familiarity with selected literary works of enduring quality.


Demonstrates an understanding of why certain literary works are considered classics or works of enduring quality and substance.

Grade Level:


Subject Area:



Demonstrates competence in the general skills and strategies for reading literature.


Makes abstract connections between his or her own life and the characters, events, motives, and causes of conflict in texts.

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

historical understanding


Understands the historical perspective.


Benchmark 1:Analyzes the values held by specific people who influenced history and the role that these values played.

Benchmark 2:Knows how to evaluate the credibility and authenticity of historical sources.
Grade Level:


Subject Area:

behavioral studies


Understands conflict, cooperation, and interdependence among individuals, groups, and institutions.


Understands that conflict between people or groups may arise from competition over ideas, resources, power, and/or status.
Copyright 2001

Teachers may reproduce copies of these materials for classroom use only.

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