Red badge of Courage - Stephen Crane, review

I. Theme

The difference between the ideal and real world. The novel shows that man can persuade himself in his ideal world (imagination), however, the reality cannot be changed only by the dreams. Only those who are or were in war, know what the war really is.

II. Subject

War, fear, ethics – difference between ideal and real, death

III. Plot and structure

  1. Jim Conklin announces probable movement of the regiment into the battle
  2. This evokes deep thought of the main character, Henry Fleming, what would he do if he is in danger
  3. When the first battle starts Henry is afraid but finds out that loud soldier (Wilson), who giggled to his question about running is afraid too, he gave him yellow envelope – provides answer to his question that he is not alone
  4. Ass soon as the first battle starts Henry prepares to run but he does not, here he becomes part of war
  5. When second attack starts he couldn’t bear the pressure and starts to run – not necessary, they win
  6. Nature gives him sign that he is right with his sense for self-preservation p. 58 but does not now how to persuade the others
  7. He feels ashamed when he sees others suffering after the battle and he desires for the red badge of courage similar to that which is wore by the wounded.
  8. Huge man smashed him with rifle, he is wounded and in his regiment he is thought to be a hero
  9. He is sent to battle as a leader but when the hardest battle comes his problems occurs again
  10. He hides himself behind the fence of an old farm waiting for the end of the battle
  11. When the war is over he feels fine but tattered man explains him that reality and his feelings are something completely different.

Conflict - inside the person. Main character Henry Fleming does not know what he would do if faced with real danger. He wants to know whether he would run or not and how would react the others. He tries to find out why he feels different when he knows he is coming into battle and might lose his life and when he was travelling to Washington and dreaming about becoming a hero.

  1. Exposition – setting the place into the hills, describing the situation before Jim Conklin announced his truthful information about the next day movement of their regiment. Henry goes to war.
  2. Complication – p. 10, everyone seems to be happy on hearing the news from the tall soldier that they will fight against enemy. Only one youth is scared, starts to doubt about himself and the world. He comes back into the past (flashbacks) to find out why he came to that place. He also tries to find out what the others would do. He asks Jim Conklin if he would run from battle.
  3. Crises – Henry was made leader of the men into the battle, he has strong speech to persuade them that they will fight like devils, but a sarcastic man makes a fun of him. When in battle Henry is angry with his comrades who do not look tired, he starts to be revenge hungry against enemy (115, 116) and shoots and shoots. Here it seems he had overcome all his obstacles. Lieutenant is glad with Henry’s action. According to this they are sent to the worst situation as “mule drivers”, and here Henry’s problem occurs again. He is fed up with those who called them mule drivers but he is also admired for brave carrying flag. To sum up, Henry fights the first battle, but then he is scared and is not able to face the enemy and see the fight itself. He runs away in order to save his life. He cannot imagine himself being death.
  4. Climax – when he witnesses how is the regiment beaten and how the old sergeant shot was and compares it with the orders of colonel and situation on the field he decided to save his life hiding himself behind the fence of vanished farmer. So he runs again. Here he finds another men and survives the hardest battle of all. He decides to return and fight again. He is admired by his comrades because of his fighting and his wound. He wants to be a hero but he fails again when he hides himself to safe his life.
  5. Resolution – when the battle is over they see troops marching away. Henry feels fine, because he was included in war. He was touched with death he was a man. Only tattered man reveals him the truth that real man, like Bill Smithers, would rather be at battle than in hospital. Thanks to tattered man he sees his error and is afraid it would stand before him all his life. But finally he puts his fear away and opens his eyes to see new ways. He finds out he is man, because he was in war and saw the death.

IV. Setting

Natural in combination with things that people made. (Hills, army-camp, battlefield, river, forest and road, tents). In Henry’s flashback there is his mother’s farm described. Setting is very realistic

V. Characters

Main character:

Henry Fleming – young man, who looked upon war as a Greek struggle and enlisted to army against the will of his mother in order to fulfil his dream, which was tightened by all those people he met during the journey on the battlefield. Only when the real battle, the reality, not his dream, is approaching he starts to realize important questions of life. What would he do if his life is endangered, would he run or not? His self-confidence is destructed when he finds out that now he cannot escape. When the time of battle comes he behaves like “coward” and looks for reasons how to excuse his actions at least for himself. His behaviour bears many realistic traits of someone who enlisted into army because of wrong reasons.

Minor characters:  flat characters usually soldiers, but several of them are of some importance

Tall soldier / Jim Conklin – he announces the next day movement, he was shot and died

Loud soldier / Wilson - he hates just marching around, also afraid of death

Colonel with moustache – wants box of cigars from horseman

Hannises – general who took over 304th regiment into battle

Tattered man – flat character, but important for the next behaviour of Henry. He presents contrast to Henry and also different way of thinking of a man who is in battle. He is the man who witnesses the death of Jim Conklin. He often recollects what Tom Jamison, his friend, would do. Tattered man is the mark of realism.

Huge Man – asking for the sky smashes Henry with the riffle because he cannot stop shouting

Simpson – corporeal, male nurse in the camp

The loud young soldier – offered Henry his bed and cared after his wound, different opinion on battle Henry – bad, soldier good – they were in different places

MacChesney – officer who named them mule drivers

Hasbrouck – officer who is the best officer in this regiment according to Henry

Jimmie Rogers – Henry´s comrade who was shot through the body

VI. Point of view

3rd person camera eye– relating want is happening, but occasionally it looks like a first person narrator

VII. Style

Low, informal style. American English. There are many contractions, slang expressions. This is the jargon (language) of military profession (battery, musketry, pontoons, generals, lieutenant etc)

VIII. Tone

Tone - uniqueness, spontaneity, sadness, melancholy,

Situational irony – as he was running to save himself, he was afraid of nature (branches) that scared him and he came to battle lines among too many corpses p. 62.

Cosmic irony/irony of fate– nature versus people. Nature seems serene, however, people suffer in battle.

IX. Symbolism, allegory

War – red animal – it is thought that war changes everything into blood. p. 33 – private symbol

Nature – a woman with deep aversion to tragedy - difference between ideal and real. Nature is real – do not mind human tragedy that is perceivable especially in human mind – cultural symbol

Red badge of courage – wound – it is symbol for bravery, symbol of a real man

Running – allegory – it intersects through the whole novel. Main character tries to escape by running against war, death, before himself and generally the reality. In the end he found escape in the fence of an old farm with other soldiers.

Allegory: Henry is admired by his comrades for his bravery, but the truth is that he is not brave at all, because he did not fight and he ran and hid himself. He was scared of loosing his life. So he is not a hero. Heroes are all the other men who were fighting till the end.

X. Genre (type)

It is realistic novel, war novel, describing ordinary characters in war and one particular battle. All the actions are described vividly evoking sense of objective truth.

XI. Own interpretation

I think, this novel shows how people think and behave in real life. We are like Henry full of expectations built on news obtained from someone else, however, when we approach reality we start to ask ourselves who we are and how we would react. The novel is, in my opinion, exposure of attempts of a human mind to overcome natural cowardice hidden inside our dreams. It also shows how are people eager to satisfy, at least, opinion of the others by inventing a tale and to escape before their own incapability to do something properly or accept failure. Furthermore, main character Henry, also shows how people usually solve their inner conflict in order to save their image. He took part in the battle predominantly either as a spectator or as carrier of the flag but not as a fighter. Finally, the hardest part of battle he spent hidden with other comrades behind the fence of an old farm and went out only on the departure of the musketry.

To conclude this novel is vivid demonstration of the real human reactions which are based on the contradiction between the ideal world created in the mind and the reality