Peace is a rare circumstance among major nations in the last 150 years. When war pushes peace out, everyone quickly realizes why peace is so important and desirable. When peace returns, the next generation can quickly fail to grasp its significance. In extreme cases, this can lead to romanticism of war.
Books like The Red Badge of Courage and All Quiet on the Western Front are important ways to pass along the message of how undesirable war is.
The Red Badge of Courage offers another benefit. Stephen Crane takes us into the mindset of mid-19th century America. At that time, the spiritual and the tangible were closely entertwined in peoples' minds. You will find a lot of religious metaphors in this book that a modern writer would be relatively unlikely to use.
Another benefit of reading The Red Badge of Courage is that it helps to understand the profound effect that the Civil War has had on the United States. The significance of these events remains fresh for many Americans, while others ignore the events totally.
Although it is certainly not an easy book to read, it can be a rewarding one. You will find that you can discuss this book with a high percentage of all the people you will ever meet who like to read. That's a pretty nice benefit from reading a fairly short book.
I also recommend that you also think about where in your own life you have developed misconceptions that could harm you.
on 10 October 2007
What's it's like to be in battle? Where do you get the courage to attack under enemy fire? If you're eager to find out without actually going into battle, John Keegan's book ''The Face of Battle" gives the best factual account that I know of, but for sheer emotional impact nothing outdoes "The Red Badge of Courage". Because it's fiction rather than fact this is the definitive book on the topic.
In a very simple and sparse language Crane succeeds in conveying the battle waged in Henry Fleming's mind (dreaming of heroism but confronted with cruelty and horror), and he does it with tremendous impact. So small a book yet so powerful, this is a gem everyone should read.
on 28 November 2011
The novel follows Henry, a new recruit to the Army who at first is subject to endless marching around and the boredom that accompanies it. While the soldiers sit around waiting for rumours that fighting will eventually begin, Henry has time to reflect on his situation and he wonders how he will react once he actually sees battle: will he stand and fight, or turn and run. This psychological battle in his head continues even when he is engaged in battle as he tries to overcome his fears.
"Well, I wanta do some fighting anyway," interrupted the other. "I didn't come here to walk. I could 'ave walked to home-'round an' 'round the barn, if I jest wanted to walk."
The novel is quite an intense read as Henry goes through a wide range of emotions from bravery, pride, wishing for a wound (his own read badge of courage) to sheer cowardice. These emotions along with the men's contempt for their superiors make this one of the most interesting depictions of war I have ever read.
Unfortunately the writing is very heavy going and quite difficult to read. At times, especially during the battle scenes I had trouble working out what was going on and if Henry was observing or participating. This meant that I did not get emotionally involved with the story or with Henry which is a great shame as the ideas and concept is very interesting.
At times he regarded the wounded solders in an envious way. He conceived persons with torn bodies to be peculiarly happy. He wished that he, too, had a wound, a red badge of courage.
There are more modern novels which deal with similar themes which are easier to read and have more of an emotional impact so I wouldn't recommend this one unless you had a particular interest in novels of this period or you wanted to understand why this novel is so influential.
on 23 May 2013
A REVIEW OF `THE RED BADGE OF COURAGE' by STEPHEN CRANE
Now established as a classic among American literature, `The Red Badge of Courage' (1895) is a surprisingly intimate and gritty novel which chronicles the experience of warfare rather than relying upon memorable incidents or events. Those expecting the sprawling narrative of `Moby Dick' or `Ben Hur' should look elsewhere. However, for those wanting a stark, close-up taste of what it must have been like to fight in The American Civil War (1861-65), `The Red Badge of Courage' has much to enthral the reader.
The actual plot of the novel is minimal. Young recruit Henry Fielding signs up (against his mother's wishes) to fight on the side of The Union. Intensely questioning his ability to remain resolute under fire, the novel chronicles a two-day period in battle during which Henry undergoes a tidal wave of emotional turmoil, experiencing shameful lows and stirring highs.
It is interesting to note the almost total absence of historical context in which the events unfold. Crane makes no attempt to explain the causes of The Civil War, nor the issues that motivated either side. Indeed, this seems to be a record of simply `war' and, as such, garnered the book many a resurgence in popularity, notably during 1914-1918. Similarly, Henry is more frequently referred to as `the youth' than by name, and has an everyman appeal that makes his experiences seem to be `universal'.
For a book of its age, `The Red Badge of Courage' is surprisingly stark in its details. Although the profusion of swearing from the soldiers is merely referenced as a torrent of unspecified `oaths', the accounts of the fighting and its impact upon the combatants is striking. One incident in which a young recruit is shot through the cheek is pitifully explicit. In reading the latter chapters, I was reminded of the similarly bleak episode of television's `Band of Brothers' during which Easy Company was stationed in Bastogne in 1944.
What prevents me from scoring `The Red Badge of Courage' as highly as other novels that might be described as its logical `bedfellows' is the limitations imposed by its failure to adhere to the usual three-act structure and offer a truly satisfying story-arc. Indeed, those who want to know whether Henry could really be described as heroic are advised to read Crane's short story `The Veteran' which is regularly published alongside `The Red Badge of Courage'. In very few pages, it provides a wonderfully poignant finale that arguably eclipses that of the novel.
Nevertheless, as a grainy, intense and credible study of a young man's experiences in the heat of battle, it is not hard to see why `The Red Badge of Courage' so fascinated the public at the start of the 20th century. How ironic that its lessons were so blatantly disregarded in the earth-shattering conflicts that were to lie ahead.
Barty's Score: 8 / 10
on 4 December 2014
When this book was written, the Civil War was only 30 years old and a living memory. That this story was embraced by the people who lived through this War and continues to be read today, is a testament to its greatness. Quite simply, I love 'The Red Badge of Courage' as it is one of the most beautifully written stories I have ever read.
I wasn't expecting to enjoy this much but I did. I found it gripping. I have never been involved in a war but for what its worth, I found this the most convincing account of being in a battle I have ever read. The only other thing I have seen which gives the same feel is Clint Eastwood's film about Iwo Jima.
I liked the way Crane describes the swirling and shifting thoughts of a young man under extreme stress, in a group of many others in the same state.
It shows how, if one is lucky enough to survive, war can mature a person almost overnight.