The Red Badge of Courage

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The Red Badge of Courage (1895)
Written by Stephen Crane

Who has also done Maggie: A Girl of the Streets and The Open Boat


Henry Fleming (The Youth)

Tattered Soldier

Jim Conklin (Tall Soldier)

Wilson (Loud Soldier)


Man With the Cheery Voice
Considered one of the most influential works in American literature, Red Badge of Courage chronicles a young recruit’s experience in the American Civil war. The novel is regarded as to be Crane’s masterwork for its perceptive depiction of warfare and of the psychological turmoil of the soldier.
Although the story Crane tells is deceptively simple, it reveals, better than any other novel I've read, the full horror of war, and the complexity and unpredictability of human behavior in the crucible of battle.

Crane’s Classic Study of the Effects of War on a Young Man by RD Allison

June 17, 1999
When I was in high school several years ago, this was one of the books required in one of my English classes. And, upon going through the many reviews below, I find that it is still a required book for today's students. But, several appear to find Crane's novel "boring," "difficult to read," and nothing that they can "relate to." I heard many of the same things in the early 1960s. But, then I found myself in an environment not too dissimilar of the main character of the novel. It suddenly became relevant and real. Crane's depiction of war and the thoughts of young men at war, both willing and unwilling, will always be relevant. This novel is the psychological study of a young soldier and his first encounters with the brutality seen in battle (many critics have regarded this book as the first modern war novel). The unnamed battle in the novel is probably Chancellorsville (1863). The young infantryman, Henry Fielding, faces his first battle wanting to prove himself a hero. However, when the battle is actually thrust upon him, he is overcome by fear and he runs. He joins the wounded but he has not won their "red badge of courage." He sees his friend Jim Conklin killed and he becomes enraged, particularly at the injustice of war. (I remember noting the significance of the initials J. C. for the soldier's friend; but, I later discovered that this observation was not original. The novel is filled with imagery. For example, even the horsemen of the apocalypse make an appearance.) This is a great novel and I hope it remains on reading lists for years to come. 

A Great Novel About Courage and Heroism by Anonymous

February 1, 2001
The Red Badge of Courage is interpreted as many as being an anti-war novel: it is not. What it does do is present the horrors and psychological aspects of war without glory, but not without heroics and courage. Henry Fleming is in many ways an every-soldier: he joins the army out of patriotism and to prove his manhood; when the time comes to fight he doubts himself and runs away out of fear. It is at this point Henry comes to the crossroads of his young life: instead of completely deserting his unit he returns to his regiment and the battlefield out of a sense of duty and also out of shame and anger at himself. Once he returns he performs heroically on the battlefield. I feel Crane's purpose in this books is not to make some overblown anti-war treatise like All Quiet on the Western Front, but to portray what he believed( and may soldiers who read the book agreed with him) to be the emotions and feelings of a soldier in war and also the true motivation behind courage and heroism. Crane shows through Henry, that heroism and courage in war is not something that comes naturally to man(or any animal, as shown by the squirrel scene in the forest) or can simply be conjured up out of blind obedience or extreme patriotism. Crane in fact argues the opposite: courage in war(or in and courage in response to violence) is something unnatural, something that must be accomplished by overcoming our own natural fear and flight instincts. Henry is able to perform heroically because of anger, his sense of duty, his feeling of brotherhood toward his regiment and out of something deep inside himself that even Crane ( and nobody) could not totally understand . This is a great book about heroism, courage , brotherhood, duty and the psychological aspects of war. It is not a books that glorifies war ,nor it is it an anti-war treatise. It simply tells a story about war in a world where war exists. 

An online version of Red Badge of Courage can be found at

Allusions, References and Noteable Notes
Magical Numbers. Certain numbers have held mythological significance throughout history; most notably are the numbers 3,4 and 7. Three has Christian connections (the holy trinity: Father, Son, Holy Ghost; the three wise men), while other religions use three in other ways (the third eye in Buddhism), but previous to those was viewed by ancient Egyptians as a symbol of plurality (of the god Atum, for example, it was said “when he was one and became three”; for the Greeks, the Fates came in threes; also, Ra, the Egyptian sun god, named three times to define the sun: dawn, noon and evening), in mythology heroes are often tested three times; Four has naturalistic connections to the four seasons (therefore the cycles of life and death) as well as the four directions (North, East, West, South – making a connection to the whole of Earth with connotations of travel/journey; as well, many cultures have wind gods associated with the directions) ; Seven is considered sacred pretty much Universally, as it is the combination of the other two magical numbers and is thus considered the number of perfection and completeness (think of being in seventh heaven, for example) there are also religious connections in the seven days of creation and don’t forget the seven deadly sins.

American Civil War lasted from 1861-1865 in which eleven Southernslave states’ declared their secession from the United States and formed the Confederate States of America (the Confederacy). Led by Jefferson Davis, they fought against the United States (the Union), which was supported by all the free states and the five border slave states. Confederate resistance collapsed after Confederate commander Robert E. Lee surrendered to the general-in-chief of the Union Army Ulysses S. Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9, 1865.
The Union Army had 2,100,000 soldiers against the Confederates’ 1,064,000 with the total casualties on both sides numbering around 620,000 (with an additional 412,20+ injured).

Naturalism was a literary movement taking place from 1865 to 1900 that used detailed realism to suggest that social conditions, heredity, and environment had inescapable force in shaping human character. It was depicted as a literary movement that seeks to replicate a believable everyday reality, as opposed to such movements as Romanticism or Surrealism, in which subjects may receive highly symbolic, idealistic, or even supernatural treatment. Naturalistic writers were influenced by the evolution theory of Charles Darwin. They believed that one's heredity and social environment determine one's character. Naturalistic works often include uncouth or sordid subject matter, exposing the dark harshness of life.

Some Defining Characteristics of Naturalism

  • Pessimism: Very often, one or more characters will continue to repeat one line or phrase that tends to have a pessimistic connotation, sometimes emphasizing the inevitability of death.

  • Literary Detachment: The author often tries to maintain a tone that will be experienced as 'objective' and will frequently achieve detachment by creating nameless characters.

  • Determinism: pretty much the opposite of free will’s idea that individual characters have a direct influence on the course of their lives, naturalism supplants this through a focus on nature or fate, leading the reader to believe a character's fate has been pre-determined, usually by environmental factors, and that he/she can do nothing about it.

  • Human Isolation: Very often there are references to nature’s indifferent to human struggle

  • Surprising Twist Ending

Discussion Questions
Text as Story

 Pattern of 3s

 Nature of courage/fear
Text as Technique

 Namelessness

Key Quotes/Selections




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